Andrea Tilden, Ph.D.
J. Warren Merrill Associate Professor of Biology
One Scientist’s Trash is Another Scientist’s Treasure: Introns as Tools for Eukaryotic Innovation
Eukaryotic origins have been a source of intrigue and debate as scientists have attempted to reconcile the seemingly simultaneous appearance of the nucleus, endomembrane system, endosymbiont-derived organelles, and unusual genome structure. Among the eukaryotic genomic peculiarities is the vast quantity of non-protein-coding DNA, including gene-disrupting introns. My lab uses computational techniques to test hypotheses regarding the influence of introns on protein structure and evolution. We study large, modular, multi-function proteins (LMMPs) with high intron densities. These proteins tend to be involved in processes unique to eukaryotes such as multicellularity, tissue differentiation, and regeneration. By dissecting proteins and their intron/exon gene structures on a fine computational scale, we may be able to trace the trajectories of important features such as the ability to regenerate tissues in some metazoan lineages but not others.