What we do

The Gold lab specializes in molecular geobiology, meaning we use data from living organisms to ask question related to the fossil and geologic record. We also study biological systems from the perspective of deep, geologic time (how systems are shaped over hundreds of millions of years). Most of this work is centered on the origin of animals, but Dr. Gold has worked on projects 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. Our laboratory spaces include the main campus of the University of California, Davis as well as the Bodega Marine Laboratory.

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 emphasizes community engagement and the integration of indigenous forms of knowledge. Dr. Gold is a strong proponent of empiricism and the scientific method, yet accepts its fundamental limitations as well as the role society plays in shaping research. We believe that increasing diversity inherently improves the scientific enterprise as well as its public reception.


Latest News


Congratulations to Tessa for passing her qualifying exam! It’s an ambitious project combining the rock fieldwork and molecular biology. We can’t wait to see what comes out of it.


Dr. Gold’s latest paper is now out. This is the first project in a partnership with Dr. David Sinclair at Harvard Medical School (check out our feature on Veritasium to learn more about our work). The paper is accessible for free at Molecular Biology and Evolution.


Our new jellyfish tank at the Bodega Marine Laboratory is up and running!


Congratulations to Liyu for a wonderful presentation at the NSF CAMP/LAMP summer scholars program. Someone’s got a great career ahead of her!


Dr. Gold was this months month’s guest on Face to Face With Chancellor May. A big thank you to the Chancellor for inviting me on. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the work being done in the lab, and I even got to ask the Chancellor a few questions about . You can watch it here.


Congratulations to Tessa for being accepted into the CIDER summer program!  This four-week intensive course will take place at UC Berkeley, with a focus on the physical and chemical conditions that allowed life to gain a foothold on Earth. You can learn more about the program here.


Our ex-lab tech Paóla received her “white coat” from UC San Francisco today! This ceremony inducts each new class of dental students. Paóla’s ceremony comes a year late because of the pandemic, but it was worth the wait. Congratulations Paóla!



Congratulations to Hannah for receiving a California Sea Grant Graduate Research Fellowship! This prestigious NOAA-funded program covers two years of work for her project “Applying Indigenous Knowledge and Genetic Data to Evaluate Clam Garden Restoration Potential in Northern California.”


Our latest paper is out! Lead by ex-postdoc Roxanne Banker, this is the first publication where all the work was done in the Gold Lab at UC Davis. We wanted to understand how the loss of sulfate reducing bacteria impacts the growth of oyster shells, and the results….were much odder than expected. You can read the paper for free at the PLOS ONE website.


Congratulations to Liyu, 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.


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.

Older News…


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