Rakhay Burtzlaff

My research is focused on the effect of environmental factors on the physiology of moon jellyfish. Specifically, the process of reverse-development, which allows the jellyfish to go back on it’s lifecycle to repair damage. My goal is to understand the mechanisms of organisms with ancient body plans through observation of external structures, to eventually study the genetic factors that make them that way.

      Maddie Albert

      I am a fourth-year undergraduate student currently working towards a B.S. in Global Disease Biology here at UC Davis. My interests include comparative biology, molecular evolution, and marine biology. I am extremely interested in learning about the interdependencies between organisms and the environment, specifically relating to climate change and a species’ evolutionary biology. I have always had a deep fascination (obsession) with cnidarian species and their biology. I am super excited to be studying these critters in the lab this year!

          John LaRue

          One of the most interesting questions in Evolutionary Biology is how changes in DNA sequence can lead to the evolution of entirely new morphological structures and body plans. I’m interested in the patterns and processes of molecular evolution that drive the morphological diversity we see in the biosphere and in the fossil record. I want to investigate the relative roles of phylogenetic constraints, gene regulation, and gene duplication in the evolution of morphological novelties. To answer these questions, I intend to integrate developmental experiments with comparative genomic and phylogenetic analyses in Cnidaria. I also maintain a general interest in the evolution of animal multicellularity and the role of regeneration in Cnidarian development.

              Chris Mulligan

              Chris (he/him) graduated with a BA in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from CU Boulder, and he is currently an Earth and Planetary Sciences PhD student here at UC Davis. Chris had a wide range of research experiences before starting grad school – studying honeybee behavioral genetics, helping curate vertebrates at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and most recently working as a research assistant on an NSF funded project studying the biosynthesis of unique bacterial lipids used in paleoclimate models. His undergraduate honors thesis took place at CU’s Organic Geochemistry Lab under Dr. Julio Sepúlveda, where he analyzed sediments from a Late Cretaceous floodplain in Madagascar to reconstruct the ecosystem and learn if the dinosaur mass mortality events that took place were caused by seasonal toxic algal blooms.

              Chris’ current work focuses on the ecology of early animals using lipid biomarkers, specifically trying to distinguish between signals from animal tissues, gut microbiomes, dietary sources, and the environment that are all preserved together in fossilized remains. This work involves both modern animals, such as experimentally controlling their diets then looking at their tissue composition, and body fossils directly using biomarkers to understand the animal’s paleobiology.

                Liyu Mekonnen

                Originally from the Bay Area, Liyu is an undergraduate student currently working towards a B.S in Chemistry and a minor in Geology. Her interests have always lived within the walls of science and history, leading her curiosity to the development of early life and the geochemical evidence of said development. She is working alongside team members Chris and Tessa to further the dated dialogue concerning early demosponges and ancient algae by means of biomarker data and genetic phylogeny. Liyu is beyond excited to contribute to the unfinished puzzle that is early life evolution.

                    Tessa Brunoir

                    Originally from North Carolina, I graduated from Smith College (‘17) with a BA in Geosciences. I am an “early life” geobiologist and a paleobiologist primarily interested in major biotic turn over events during the Neoproterozoic. My previous experience is in geology, however, while in the Gold Lab I plan to incorporate genetic phylogeny tools and biomarker data to help render a more complete picture of early eukaryotic evolution.

                    Broadly, I am interested in the Earth’s biogeochemistry, how major biotic turnover events are triggered, and how Earth’s geochemistry responds. I have previously worked on projects in North America involving redox geochemistry during the Late Devonian-Early Mississippian and Cambrian carbon isotopes, as well as Cryogenian geochronology in Namibia.

                      Hannah Hensel

                      I am interested in how animals respond to environmental stress on various timescales. My work is highly interdisciplinary, drawing from genomics, biogeochemistry, sclerochronology and Indigenous knowledge. My dissertation focuses on how the Pacific littleneck clam (Leukoma staminea) responds to ocean acidification, and methods for buffering animals against the negative effects of acidified water. Prior to starting graduate school at UC Davis in 2019, I earned my BS and MS degrees in geology from Miami University, and spent a year as a high school ENL/ESL Instructional Assistant for STEM subjects in Indianapolis, IN.

                      Noemie Sierra

                      Noémie Sierra

                      Noémie is a graduate student in the Integrative Genetics and Genomics graduate group at UC Davis and an NSF Graduate Research Fellow. She is interested in the evolutionary history of aging and the genetic underpinnings of various tissue regeneration strategies within the phylum Cnidaria.

                      Her current work focuses on characterizing the general strategy and cell type responsible for tissue replenishment in Aurelia aurita, and understanding how changes in expression, distribution and abundance of this cell type may contribute to the decline in regenerative capability observed in the aging medusa stage of the organism, but not in the biologically immortal polyp stage.