Fuerst Lab – Evolutionary Genetics

Research concentrates on population genetics and molecular evolution, and on conservation genetics.  Results from our studies can be examined in our lists of published papers on attached pages.  Using genetic approaches, we seek to investigate questions about the structure of populations in an eclectic set of organisms.

Two divergent areas of laboratory investigation are active, but these areas are united by the use of similar molecular methods to investigate similar questions about the evolutionary structure of populations. These analyses make use of tools from molecular biology, including DNA sequencing, DNA microsatellite analysis and the analysis of other highly variable genetic marker systems.

The two major focus areas of study in the lab:

1. The Genetic Study of Populations of Microorganisms (Including Evolution of Pathogenesis in Intracellular Bacteria and Unicellular Eukaryotes, and Host-Symbiont Interactions):

The microbial investigations in this focus area include a variety of studies concerning eukaryotic and prokaryotic organisms.

a. The studies of eukaryotic microbes emphasizes the genetics and evolution of the unicellular amoeba Acanthamoeba (a cause of diseases of the human eye) and related opportunistic protists, and center on molecular diagnosis of amoebic disease.  Extensive information is available on our related website concerning Acanthamoeba .

b. Prokaryotic studies center on the evolution of the intracellular bacteria of the genus Rickettsia, which cause diseases such as typhus and spotted fever, but that also appear to be very closely related to the bacterial group which gave rise to the eukaryotic mitochondrion. Studies include genomic analyses and examination of the role of host-bacterial interaction and bacterial transmission.  Recent emphasis has been on the study of scrub typhus, caused by the obligate intracellular bacterium Orientia tsutsugamushi, a member of the rickettsiaceae, which uses trombiculid mites as vectors.  Again, we have an auxiliary web site on scrub typhus that provides extensive information.

2. The Genetic Study of Endangered Species of Vertebrates, Especially Species of Fish: The organisms that are studied in the lab for this second area of focus have included species of several endangered vertebrates, principally fish.  Unfortunately, there is no current website to detail these studies.  More information can be obtained on our page of publications from the lab.

Emphasis has been most recently placed on the genetics of hybridization in the North American fish.  This has included studies of species of the genus Carpiodes (carpsuckers), especially in the Ohio River basin. Special focus is placed on locales in which anthropogenic modification of spawning areas has occurred (such as the effect of river damming. A second aspect of hybridization in fish examined patterns of genetic variation in saugeye (Sander vitreus x Sander canadensis) in lakes, rivers and reservoirs in Ohio and surreounding states.

Other groups which have been the subject of studies in our lab include the North American lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), and the fishes of the Lake Victoria region of East Africa, especially the haplochromine cichlids.

Other research has also included a wide set of vertebrate groups, such endangered species of cranes and of turtles and Asian orchids. Molecular approaches used include DNA sequencing, DNA microsatellite analysis and FRAPD.

The lab’s research has primarily focused on problems in populations genetics, focusing on situations where very small population sizes exist, such as with endangered species, with species which have undergone bottlenecks, and with organisms in unusual ecological situations, such host/pathogen interactions involving pathogenic protozoans and endosymbiotic microorganisms.