What we do

The Gold lab specializes in molecular paleobiology, meaning we use data from living organisms to ask question related to the fossil and geologic record. Most of this work is centered on the origin of animals, but Dr. Gold has worked on questions as ancient as the evolution of photosynthesis and as recent as DNA preservation from mammoth bones. Our work is highly interdisciplinary, touching on marine biology, genomics, biological regeneration, conservation ecology, and evolution.

Current Areas of Research

A Commitment to Inclusion

The Gold lab is committed to improving diversity and equity in the geosciences. This includes a combination of outreach/retention activities as well as the study of science’s historical role in propagating racism. Our research projects emphasize community engagement and the consideration of indigenous forms of knowledge. Dr. Gold is a strong proponent of empiricism and the scientific method while accepting its fundamental limitations. We believe that increasing diversity inherently improves the scientific enterprise as well as its public reception.

Latest News


Congratulations to Liyu Mekonnen, who has just been selected as a scholar for the National Science Foundation’s CAMP (California Alliance for Minority Participation) program! We’re thrilled to host Liyu in the lab and cannot wait to see what she accomplishes.

Latest News


Today we bid a fond farewell to Paóla Benefo. Paóla was the very first member of the Gold Lab, joining him after the two met at Caltech. The whole lab will sorely miss her, but we offer the warmest congratulations for starting dental school at UC San Francisco! Becoming a dentist has been a long-time dream for Paóla, and we couldn’t be prouder that she is attending this prestigious program. We wish her the best of luck and know she will build a leading, inclusive dental practice in California, Ghana, or wherever her travels take her.


We have received confirmation that the proposal “An Evolutionary Framework for the Molecular Fossil Record” has been funded through a National Science Foundation CAREER Award! This generous grant allows us to expand our research on the interpretation of chemical “biomarkers” preserved in ancient rocks. The study of these biomarkers is critical for natural resource exploration, identifying sources of pollution, reconstructing the history of life on Earth, and even when looking for signs of life on Mars. While scientists are very good at identifying the biosignatures contained in rocks, there is a lot of disagreement when it comes to determining what sort of organism made each compound. Our project uses the latest tools in genetics to identify what groups of living organisms have the genes necessary to make various biosignatures, and when in the past each group gained that ability. As part of our outreach, we will be developing courses to train young geologists to use genetic tools for their own research, and will be developing a mentoring program for promising Native American scholars, a group that has been historically harmed by geoscientists through land and resource theft.


A fossil discovered in northwestern Canada could rewrite the early history of animal life — but some palaeontologists are not convinced it’s real. What does Dr. Gold think of this sure-to-be controversial fossil find? Check out the recent news coverage in the journal Nature to find out.


What can jellyfish teach scientists about aging? Dr. Gold was recently invited to talk about this at Oxford University’s LivingLongerBetter seminar series. The talk was, of course, virtual. But the positive side is that the talk was easy to record! You can watch it at YouTube.


Dr. Gold had the pleasure of collaborating with a great team of scientists studying the cytochrome P450 genes in a sea anemone, coral, jellyfish, and hydra. This huge set of genes plays roles in everything from chemical defenses to metabolism to steroid synthesis. Untangling the relationships between all the P450 genes was a massive undertaking, but it will be a valuable resource for further research. Congratulations to Joanna Wilson at McMaster University for spearheading the effort. You can read the paper at the journal Scientific Reports.


Dr. Gold’s latest paper is now online. This was a collaboration with Todd Oakley’s lab at UC Santa Barbara, led by his former student (and now Yale Postdoc) Natasha Picciani. Even though most cnidarians (sea anemones, corals, jellyfish and hydras) lack eyes, many diverse species use light to control their stinging cells. This light reception likely set the stage for the evolution of eyes in multiple cnidarian groups. If you want to learn more check out the paper at Ecology & Evolution.


The Gold lab is thrilled to welcome our newest member, Chris Mulligan. Chris comes from Julio Sepúlveda’s lab at the University of Colorado Boulder. You can learn more about Chris on our Person page.


Congratulations to Hannah for receiving a Russell J. and Dorothy S. Bilinski Bodega Marine Laboratory Fellowship! This fellowship will allow her to work at the Bodega Marine Lab and develop a partnership with the Coast Miwok to study alternative approaches to clam aquaculture.


We’re so excited to welcome Tessa Brunoir to the lab as our newest graduate student! After completing her undergraduate degree at Smith College, Tessa went on to work as a laboratory technician at Harvard (Macdonald Lab) and Stanford (Sperling Lab) before joining us. You can learn more about Tessa on our Person page.


This week, the Geobiology and Geomicrobiology (GBGM) Division of the Geological Society of America has published the start of its “Diverse Faces of Geobiology” initiative. The project, started by Dr. Carie Frantz, highlights the stories and research of people from traditionally marginalized backgrounds who have helped build the field of Geobiology . I have built and am maintaining the website, so if you have any thoughts or comments please contact me. Keep checking the site for updates; new bios will be coming up as they’re ready!


Dr. Gold is has been elected to serve another two years as a committee member in the Geobiology and Geomicrobiology (GBGM) Division of the Geological Society of America.


Dr. Gold is featured in an article on The Atlantic about Trichoplax and the origin of animals. You can read it here.


Congratulations to Hannah for receiving a Durrell Award for her dissertation research!

Older News…


The Gold lab gratefully acknowledges current and previous funding sources. Please see the CV and Links pages for more information.