Lori Hepner, an artist from my home town of Pittsburgh, and I collaborate on art.  Most of our collaborations involve dicussions of how biological and digital code evolve and change.

Lectures to the public

Greater Pittsburgh Aquarium Society
September 28th, 2012
Why are African cichlids so special? Understanding their evolution in East Africa.


Guest blog posts

BEACON NSF Center for Evolution in Action: 11/2/11blog post

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by the natural world. Whether it is the chameleon with its capacity to change colors, ants’ collective behavior, or virus’s ability to highjack the machinery of cells, the great variety of organisms alive has inspired my curiosity. As I became more interested in biology I learned that despite the complexity of life forms, there were physical processes such as evolution by natural selection that are responsible for producing them...
[to read more click here]

Why I became a scientist? A blog entery formerly hosted by www.callofscience.com

Why am I a scientist?  It’s simple; I have always been fascinated by biology.  As a child my neighbors, who I also consider a second set of parents, lovingly called me ‘bug-boy’.  Embarrassing, I know.  I was not so much fascinated with insects, but all things living.  I grew up in a city so the only wild things that I could catch and study were bugs; flies near the garbage can, terrestrial crustaceans known as pill bugs living under damp rocks, spiders living on webs in the corners of basement windows, and lightening bugs at night.  As you can tell from my descriptions, I was extremely interested in the adaptations of the organisms I caught; where did they live, what did they eat, and what traits did they use to live their unique lives.  Today I study how viruses evolve traits to exploit new environments, or in other words, how viruses evolve to infect new host species.  I am attracted to this work because viruses evolve rapidly and I can watch evolution in real-time, I can watch organisms evolve adaptations that are analogous to the ones I marveled over as a child.  My research has implication for human disease, including what evolutionary processes led to the recent H1N1 pandemic, but my true motivation has been to satisfy this early desire to understand why the biotic world was so complex, so diverse, and seem to fit together so nicely. 


My early interest may have provided the nuts and bolts for an eventual career in science, however there are many people who helped me put them together.  I have an exceptional family who nurtured my interests, especially my younger brother Adam.  Unfortunately for Adam, he was also considered a ‘bug-boy’, this is because he volunteered to carry a jar of my captured insects around as we (perhaps ‘I’ is more accurate) collected more samples.  My parents took me to nature camp, fishing, and taught me about gardening, the neighbors I described before walked me through field guides, and my extended family listened to my many stories about my captured animals or what I had learned from the discovery channel.  I was incredibly lucky to have such a strong support network that more than tolerated a young, perhaps annoying, nerd.  I hope that other young scientists receive the same encouragement that I had.

Educational material

           A challenge for teaching evolutionary biology is to convince students to believe in it since its lessons are unintuitive. Other sciences, such as physics have equally counterintuitive results, however their  claims are not met with the same scrutiny.  I believe the difference in students acceptances of the invisible forces of gravity as compared to their rejection of the invisible hand of natural selection is because students are unable to experience evolution like they can gravity.  A few colleagues and I at the University of Ottawa have overcome this problem by designing a short (5-day) lab experiment with bacteria where students observe evolution in real-time.  The bacteria evolve to adapt to new environments and luckily these changes can be seen in how they grow on agar plates.  The proof for students can be understood by visual inspection of petri dishes, rather then through graphs or abstract data analysis.  Below are links to the downloads for this exercise.  These were written many years ago and could be improved.  Please e-mail me with any questions you may have about this material.  Good luck.

[lab description]     [rapid evolution power point]    

See the original paper where this study system was developed:
Rainey, P. B. & Travisano, M. (1998) Adaptive radiation in a heterogeneous environment.  Nature 394, 69-72.


Research in the press 

Virus evolves new function

January 27,2012
Our 2012 paper in Science has received some media coverage.  Here are links to a few articles / interviews:
[NYTimes]   [podcast]   [video]   [Spanish]

Metaanalysis reveals patterns of bacteria-virus ...

jUNE 27, 2011

A  Collaborative project by myself and colleagues at Georgiech recieved some press, see an article [here].

Competition, predation, and diversification...

March 22, 2007
Our 2007 paper in Nature received some press, including a Nature Podcast, an interview on CBC radio, and an article in the Toronto Sun.  The podcast gives the best synopsis of our research.

Evolution Can Occur Quickly, Change Population       Interaction

July 10, 2006

A new Cornell study shows that evolution and ecology can operate on the same time scale... read the rest  at news.softpedia.com

side notes

Lori Code Works
This piece is by Lori Hepner.  It depicts the decay of binary code and is in-part inspired by a discussion of my research on E. coli.


The BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action approaches evolution in an innovative way, bringing together biologists, computer scientists, and engineers to study evolution as it happens and apply this knowledge to solve real-world problems. BEACON is an NSF Science and Technology Center, headquartered at Michigan State University with partners at North Carolina A&T State University, University of Idaho, University of Texas at Austin, and University of Washington.

pseudomonas diversification
Two new genotypes of Pseudomonas fluorescens evolve within 5 days.

Devin Dobias Justin Meyer holding petri dishUndergrad researcher Devin Dobias and I examining a petri dish.  Devin made the initial discovery that Lambda Phage evolved a new function.

sijmen rees justin
Picture from an article about my Master's lab.  Click here to link to the article. The picture is of  Sijmen Schoustra (left), Rees Kassen (middle), and me (right).