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The Australian National University

Dr Rob Lanfear

PhD (University of Sussex, 2008)
ANU College of Science

Areas of expertise

  • Phylogeny And Comparative Analysis 060309
  • Molecular Evolution 060409
  • Population, Ecological And Evolutionary Genetics 060411
  • Bioinformatics 060102
  • Genomics 060408
  • Speciation And Extinction 060311

Research interests

Our work is motivated by the desire to understand molecular evolution, from the origin of mutations in individuals to their fixation in evolving lineages. To achieve this, we combine comparative methods, field work, genome sequencing, and evolutionary theory with the development of new methods and software.

Reading the history of mutations in individual plants

We are working on new methods to meausure and understand mutations that accumulate within individual plants. As most organisms grow they accumulate somatic mutations - changes to the genome that persist in the body's tissues. In plants, somatic mutations can be heritable and this has huge implications for plant ecology and evolution, as well as agriculture and plant industry. We are developing empirical methods to identify, map, and date the entire history of somatic mutations across the genome of an individual plant. This is an exciting area of research that combines beautiful field work with cutting-edge genome sequencing methods to illuminate a fascinating and underexplored area of biology. We are actively building collaborations and recruiting students in this area, so if you are interested, please get in touch.

Understanding the causes and consequences of molecular evolution

Why do some species evolve faster than others? Do rates of molecular evolution drive rates of speciation? What proportion of genomic changes are adaptive, deleterious, or neutral? Questions like these are fundamental to our understanding of evolution, genomics, and biodiversity. To answer them, we wrangle together large databases of genetic, environmental, and life-history information for whole clades of organisms (e.g. mammals, birds, plants), and use them to test hypotheses about the causes and consequences of molecular evolution. These broad scale comparative approaches are extremely rewarding, allowing important glimpses into some of the most important causes and consequences of molecular evolution.

Making robust inferences from DNA datasets

Developing software and writing code is great fun, if you enjoy that sort of thing. The biggest ongoing software project in the lab is PartitionFinder, which is a piece of software for model selection in phylogenetics. We are also developing tools to better understand phylogenetic trees (RWTY), and to analyse the behaviour of scientists by looking at both distributions of published P-values (pcurver) and aspects of gender bias. Our primary languages are Python and R, and all of our code is open source. To see all of lab's software projects, please see Rob's GitHub page.

 

Biography

I grew up in England. My BSc and honors were in Ecology, my MSc was in Artificial Intelligence, and my PhD (at the University of Sussex in the UK) was in developmental biology. After a short postdoc attempting and failing to edit shrimp genomes at University College London, I switched gears to focus on my growing interest in molecular evolution and phylogenetics. In 2008 I moved the ANU as a postdoc, where I remained for 6 years. I then took up a permanent position as a Senior Lecturer in Genomics at Macquarie University in Sydney, and moved back to the ANU at the first opportunity in 2016. I now focus on a range of topics including molecular evolution, somatic mutation, phylogentics, comparative methods, and bioinformatics.

 

Publications

Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  14 December 2017 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers