Spotlight

Nadya holding a male black-footed ferret recovering from anesthesia
Nadya Ali's research promotes the recovery of endangered species
Her work could impact recovery efforts for endangered mammals worldwide
Spotlight written by Jordan Greer Nadya Ali is a 3rd year PhD candidate in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology. Her research aims to promote the continued recovery of endangered species. After graduating from Barnard College (2013), she spent much of her time focused on social justice—this passion culminated in her documentary film, “Breaking Silence.” At the University of Chicago, she brings that same drive to her research as she investigates strategies to combat infertility in her model species, the critically endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes). Although she works on a single species, the results of her research could impact recovery efforts for endangered mammals across the globe. With the support of her advisor, Dr. Rachel Santymire, Nadya works to develop approaches to overcome the high levels of male black-footed ferret infertility that have emerged within captive populations. She investigates how factors of captivity, such as diet, may lead to ferret infertility through sperm DNA damage. Additionally, Nadya is developing an assay to screen for the levels of DNA damage present in ferret sperm—the results of which could help scientists and managers determine which males would have the best chance of breeding successfully. Then, she is applying molecular techniques to investigate how gene expression differs between fertile vs. infertile individuals. Taken together, Nadya’s research will contribute to captive M. nigripes management efforts, so that more individuals can be released back into the wild.   Nadya's research is made possible with support from the Hinds Fund, the University of Chicago Diversity and Inclusion Grant, and the Association of Zoo’s and Aquarium’s Saving Species from Extinction (SAFE) Grant. With their support, she has been able to gather data from various captive breeding sites, including the Colorado National Ferret Conservation Center and Louisville Zoological Gardens. These funds also allow her to spend time collecting samples from M. nigrepes in the wild. However, in Nadya's view, it’s the people she’s met through the University of Chicago that has made the greatest impact: “CEB attracts a diverse group of people with different expertise and backgrounds, and—in a non-traditional way—it’s trained me to be a more critical thinker and scientist.” Once completed with her dissertation work, Nadya plans to use her newfound skills and connections to continue her fight for social good, both for animal and humankind.    
Ryan Fuller uses molecular techniques to understand speciation in genus Rhododendron
A 4th-year CEB student, Ryan Fuller's research combines botany, genetics, and evolution
Spotlight written by Jordan Greer Ryan Fuller is a 4th year PhD candidate in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology whose work combines aspects of botany, genetics, and evolution. He received a Master’s of Science from the University of Northern Colorado (2015) where he was introduced to plant research and quickly fell in love with applied population genetics. Now at the University of Chicago, he aims to use molecular techniques to better understand evolution and speciation within the plant genus Rhododendron, a charismatic and prominent element of the North Temperate flora. Specifically, his research focuses on the alpine subsection of Rhododendron known as Lapponica. By collecting leaf tissue samples from natural Lapponica populations and sourcing material from living and museum collections, he hopes to combine genetic data with physical traits to answer questions about evolutionary history and species identification. With support from his CEB advisors Drs. Richard Ree and Andrew Hipp and multiple collaborators around the world, Ryan has developed a phylogeny of Lapponica using DNA sequence data. Early results suggest that some of the supposed “species” are actually the products of hybridization events or phenotypic plasticity. What’s more is that several samples display higher rates of genome duplication (polyploidy) than previously expected. These findings beg new questions: (1) How does polyploidy impact diversification within Lapponica and other closely related groups and (2) can its origins be traced? These problems are the focal points of Ryan’s dissertation work and may hold answers that dramatically reshape our understanding of evolution within Rhododendron. With funding from the Committee on Evolutionary Biology and a Mini-ARTS award from the Society of Systematic Biologists, he has traveled abroad to collect samples and learn from taxonomic experts. Locations include the Hengduan Mountains in China—a location brimming with over 500 species of Rhododendron, and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, Scotland--home to one of the largest collections of both living and preserved Rhododendron in the world. As a CEB student, Ryan believes his access to institutions such as the Field Museum and the Morton Arboretum have been instrumental to his professional development. In the future, he hopes to bring his University of Chicago training to his own lab where he can effectively mentor and inspire graduate and undergraduate students.  
Mike Coates, CEB chair
CEB50: Committee on Evolutionary Biology celebrates 50 years!
A unique gathering at the Field Museum
The Committee on Evolutionary Biology celebrated 50 years of groundbreaking, interdisciplinary research and achievements in evolutionary biology, at a recent gathering of current students, faculty, and distinguished alums! The special 2-day program began on Thurs evening, Nov. 21, in Hinds Laboratory, with a featured Evolutionary Morphology seminar presented by Michael Foote, UChicago professor of Geophysical Sciences, on "Diversity-Dependent Diversification in the History of Life. The 50th anniversary celebration continued on Friday, Nov. 22, at The Field Museum, with a select group of alumni -- including Brandon Kilbourne, Anjali Goswami, Karen Sears, Nate Smith, Alex Dehgan, Sharon Swartz, Ana Carnaval, Lucinda Lawson, and Michael LaBarbera -- presenting seminars throughout the day on a wide range of topics, followed by a formal reception. This very special recognition of the Committee on Evolutionary Biology's first 50 years was a resounding success!