From Edinburgh, Scotland I went to Oxford University to complete my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences between 2015 and 2018. While there, I discovered evo-devo and was excited by its ability to integrate what seemed to me the disparate fields of molecular/developmental biology and evolutionary biology. I was lucky to carry out my undergraduate research project in the lab of Dr Sebastien Shimeld at Oxford, who study the evo-devo of the vertebrate nervous system, where I was able to experience evo-devo research in action. Having then seen how molecular biology techniques could shed some light on big evolutionary questions, I was keen to learn more about the field, and so made the move across the Atlantic to McGill University to begin my graduate studies in 2018.
Here I am working towards my PhD under the joint supervision of Dr Paul Lasko & Dr Ehab Abouheif. Having both the perspective of a lab studying Drosophila melanogaster ovary development and a lab studying ant eco-evo-devo has shaped my project into a study on development and evolution of differences in ovary size between the reproductive queen caste and the non-reproductive worker caste in ants. In insects, ovaries are composed of a number of modular egg-production units called ovarioles. The number of ovarioles in each ovary is established in larval development and varies among species - and among castes in eusocial species such as ants. This difference in ovariole number is an important developmental mechanism underpinning the reproductive division of labour between queens and workers.
I am interested in how this differential ovariole number is established during queen and worker larval development, and so a major part of my project is a study of ovary development across larval stages in both castes, which will be followed by investigation of the differences in gene expression that underlie these differences. Aside from the developmental basis of caste-specific ovariole number within a species, I am also interested in the fact that ovariole number polymorphism between castes varies considerably across ant species - in some species queens and workers have identical ovariole numbers, while at the other end of the spectrum the queen has thousands of ovarioles while the workers lack ovaries altogether. To try and make sense of this variation I am investigating the social, ecological and evolutionary factors that correlate with ovariole number across species, by studying ovariole number in phylogenetic context and testing for relationships between ovariole number and other characters of interest.