After years of experimentation, with very little time allocated to reading and writing, I am putting the pipetman down and turning my focus to communication. I have taken a new position in a group where I can help advance evolutionary developmental biology by facilitating the work of scientists using genomics to study the evolution of life-history traits. They found interesting candidate genes that determine size at sexual maturity, but at what point in development are these genes acting? And what sorts of developmental differences will we see in these organisms that reach sexual maturity at different sizes?
In my spare time, I will continue to publish my work on turtles and teeth. This strange combination of research subjects makes sense, of course, in the light of development. While considering the origin and evolution of the turtle shell, I came to study the pattern of scales (or scutes) on the shell. Conveniently, these skin organs fossilize, as they leave impressions on the bones of the turtle shell. Ongoing projects include experiments on the molecules involved in patterning the turtle shell, as well as environmental influences on pattern formation. In the long-term, we are considering our ideas on scute patterns in deep time.
Though I am currently writing a methods chapter on turtles, I juggle my tooth papers. What brought me to Helsinki, Finland was actually the opportunity to work on mammalian teeth. Like scutes and scales, teeth develop from the skin. This is not only a beautiful system in which to study development and evolution, but by also working with mice, I was able to learn more rigorous methods of experimentation and visualization. And, because these tooth projects were so technical and demanding, I decided that I needed to spend some time in a paleontology research collection. From there was born my work on the cave bear and how their teeth are telling us something about their extinction.