McGlothlin Lab Update, 2017-2018

It’s been almost a year (363 days, to be exact) since my last news post. That doesn’t mean nothing has happened in the lab, though. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The past year has been such a whirlwind that I haven’t been able to keep up! So here’s my attempt to catch up with what has happened in the past year.


If you’ve looked at the people page recently, you’ll notice the lab is fairly small right now. That’s because many of our lab members have gone on to bigger and better things.

First, former postdoc Sarah Foltz started a job as an Assistant Professor just up the road at Radford University. She’s now in the process of getting her new lab up and running. She’ll be focusing her research on the effects of urbanization on behavior and physiology and songbirds. I’m really excited for Sarah as she begins this next chapter in her career, and I’m looking forward to continuing to collaborate with her in the future!

In August, Tamara Fetters became the first Ph.D. graduate from the McGlothlin lab! She defended her dissertation, “Physiological and life-history trait variation in an invasive lizard, Anolis sagrei,” and passed with flying colors. Tamara published one chapter from her dissertation last fall. Keep an eye out for more publications to come. Tamara recently moved to North Carolina, where she’s pursuing her next step. Congrats Tamara!

Celebrating Tamara Fetters, Ph.D.!

A group of great McGlothlin Lab undergraduates, Tyler Miller, Alex Nguyen, and Madison Thammavong, graduated last year. Tyler Miller received the huge honor of being named the 2018 Outstanding Senior from the VT College of Science. Way to go!


It’s been a really busy year for meetings. I racked up frequent flyer miles attending the American Genetic Association President’s Symposium in Toronto in March, the Yodzis Colloquium at the Canadian Society for Ecology & Evolution in Guelph, Ontario in July, and Evolution 2018 in Montpellier, France in August. Check out my tweets from #CSEE2018 and #Evol2018 for details. I had a great time at all of these meetings and met many new people. I also presented some new unpublished work on sexual dimorphism and social interactions in networks that will keep me busy writing for the next few months.

Grad student Kerry Gendreau attended SEPEEG 2017 in North Carolina, and we’re all headed to SEPEEG 2018 at Mountain Lake next month.


In addition to Tamara’s paper mentioned above, the lab has a number of new publications I’m excited about. First, in collaboration with P. O. Montiglio and Damien Farine, we published our first paper on how indirect genetic effects work in complex social networks. Collaborator Mike Logan published a paper on the quantitative genetics of thermal physiology in brown anoles, and the garter snake genome paper finally came out in Genome Biology and Evolution. See Mike’s Anole Annals post to learn more about his study. Here’s a Twitter thread I wrote about the garter snake genome, which fills in some critical pieces on the coevolutionary arms race between snakes and newts.

Finally, the first part of the Anolis G-matrix study I did as a postdoc with Butch Brodie and Jonathan Losos came out in Evolution Letters. I wrote a blog post explaining why we’re so excited about these results. Check it out.


Kerry Gendreau a recipient of a 2018 Graduate Research Excellence Grant (R. C. Lewontin Award) from the Society for the Study of Evolution. She’ll be using the funding to study the effects of sex linkage on voltage-gated sodium channel evolution. Congrats!

I am a co-PI on a new NSF-funded project led by PI Bill Hopkins in Fish & Wildlife Conservation along with co-PI Rich Helm in Biochemistry. We’re looking forward to learning about why hellbender fathers sometimes eat their young.


The blog Nothing in Biology published a little piece I wrote on surviving the pre-tenure years, which tells the story of my job search and my years as an assistant professor at Virginia Tech. Luckily, I managed to make it through–I was promoted to associate professor in June!

Those are the highlights of 2017-18. I plan to spend the next year teaching, writing papers and grants, and rearing a few more lizards. I’m also recruiting a grad student or two, so contact me if you’re interested!

News Catch-up

It’s been way too long since the last post, so it’s catch-up time! The last year (OK, the last 13 months) has flown by but has been action-packed.


First, I want to welcome some new personnel to the lab. Angela Hornsby joined us as a postdoc in January after defending her Ph.D. at the University of Nevada, Reno last December. Angela has been working on our project on voltage-gated sodium channel evolution. She brings some important new skills to the lab, including expertise in building bioinformatics pipelines and DNA sequencing by target enrichment.

Kerry Gendreau joined the lab as a new Ph.D. student last month. Kerry earned her master’s degree at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell and has since been working at Virginia Tech as a technician in the Kojima Lab. She’ll initially be working on the sodium channel project, but she is currently hard at work developing her own ideas for a thesis project. Kerry is also a fellow in the Interfaces of Global Change program.

The lab welcomed three new undergraduate researchers. Maeghan Klinker started in the spring semester and continued as a summer REU student. (Unfortunately, she’s off studying abroad in Scotland this semester, but she’ll be back next spring.) Rob Hadad and Madison Thammavong just joined the lab this fall.

We also said goodbye to some McGlothlin Lab members this past year. Former graduate student Julie Wiemerslage decided to leave the program last fall to pursue a master’s degree in sports management at the University of South Carolina. Lab manager (and former McGlothlin Lab undergraduate researcher) Thomas Wood left the lab this summer to pursue training in information technology. Finally, five of our undergraduate researchers, Arin Davis, Mackenzie Huber, Emily Meeks, Blake Spiers, and Emily Watts graduated this past year. All of them have some exciting post-graduation plans. I’m particularly thrilled to report that Emily Watts has decided to continue her studies in evolutionary biology and has started as a Ph.D. student in Shawn Kuchta’s lab at Ohio University. We wish everyone the best!


Sarah, Tamara, and Emily Watts attended the SICB meeting in New Orleans in January. Emily presented a poster on some of her undergraduate research, which was the subject of a post on Anole Annals, and Tamara presented a talk on her work on egg-laying rate and incubation time in invasive brown anoles. (Tamara’s work was just accepted for publication, so stay tuned!)

Angela and I both attended the Evolution meeting in Portland in June. Angela presented hot-off-the-Illumina results from our sodium channel project, and I presented some older (but still unpublished!) results from a study of Anolis G-matrix evolution. Here’s a write-up from Anole Annals. (That manuscript is ever-so-close to being ready to submit, so I hope to be able to report on it here soon.) Bob Cox was also there presenting some of our collaborative work on brown anole quantitative genetics.


Speaking of Bob Cox, he and I have published two papers from our collaborative work in the past year. First, our study integrating quantitative genetics and sexually dimorphic gene expression was published in American Naturalist. Bob wrote up a nice post on the paper for Anole Annals, so read all about it there. A second paper on dewlap quantitative genetics was published in Journal of Evolutionary Biology and selected for the cover.


I talked to Jim Metzner for a two-part story on newts and snakes for the public radio program Pulse of the Planet.

I was interviewed for the Molecular Ecologist’s series on “How Molecular Ecologists Work.” Read it to find out what takes up all my time so that I wait 13 months between news posts. (Spoiler: It’s email.)

I spent a lot of all my time this summer writing grant proposals, and I just turned in my tenure application a few weeks ago. All my fingers are crossed.

Phew! That’s it, unless I forgot something. Back in less than a year, I promise!

New paper on toxin resistance in snakes

Our new paper on the evolution of toxin resistance in snakes has now been published online in Current Biology. This paper is the result of a fairly large collaboration, including 11 authors from Virginia to the Netherlands. Major thanks go to Megan Kobiela, who did the lion’s share of the bench work for this paper.

In the paper, we show that the coevolutionary arms races with toxic newts that have previously been documented in garter snakes and their relatives depend on over 100 million years of evolutionary change. Specifically, the extreme levels of resistance to toxin that are seen in garter snakes and other snakes depend on evolutionary changes in a voltage-gated sodium channel found in muscles, but the snake families that get into these arms races in the first place inherited toxin-resistant nerves from a distant ancestor.

This graphical abstract from the journal does a good job summarizing the main result. If you’re interested in reading the paper but can’t download it, please send me an email and I’ll be happy to share it.

Figure thumbnail fx1

New paper on hormones and integration

A new paper on hormones and integration, written with Bob Cox and Fran Bonier, is now available for download from Intergrative and Comparative Biology. This is a conceptual overview, with a sneak peek of some new data that should be published soon. It will be part of a special issue in the journal based on a symposium on Evolutionary Endocrinology Bob, Fran, and I co-organized at SICB this January in Portland, OR. Most of the papers are now available online, with a few more trickling in very soon.

Encyclopedia of Evolution

I wrote a little primer on social effects in quantitative genetics for the Springer’s Encyclopedia of Evolution which is now available online. It’s an introduction to how social interactions between relatives and non-relatives affect the standard model of phenotypic evolution. There are some equations involved, but everything is simplified and explained for the mathophobic.

If you don’t have access to this chapter via your library and would like to read it, drop me an email.

Toxin-resistant garter snakes in MBE

My paper on toxin-resistance evolution in garter snakes with Butch Brodie was published in Molecular Biology and Evolution. Thanks to help from VT libraries, we were able to publish this Open Access. The paper was also honored as a “Fast Track” article by the editors of MBE.

In this paper, we show that garter snakes, which have long been known to be predators of highly toxic newts, have evolved toxin resistance in three voltage-gated sodium channels found in different tissues. These channels are normally blocked by the toxin, leading to paralysis and even death in many organisms. In 2004, Shana Geffeney and colleagues showed that the muscle channel Nav1.4 has evolved resistance to the toxin via amino acid substitutions in the channel’s pore. We looked at five other channels in this paper, and found that two of them that are expressed in peripheral nerves, Nav1.6 and 1.7, had also evolved resistance in very similar ways in garter snakes. Three other channels only found in the brain had not evolved resistance, probably because they are protected by the blood-brain barrier. These results tell us that the interaction between garter snakes and newts is a lot more complex than we originally thought.

Amino acid changes in three sodium channels.

This work wouldn’t have been possible without hard work from Dan Janes, who conducted BAC library scans of garter snake DNA while I visited Scott Edwards’s lab at Harvard back in 2010.

The project has been a long time coming together, and it will be really exciting to see where it goes next!

Hamilton’s rule and quantitative genetics

My paper on Hamilton’s Rule with Jason Wolf, Butch Brodie, and Allen Moore was published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B as part of a special issue on inclusive fitness. We review several different ways that Hamilton’s rule, which predicts whether altruism should evolve, has been incorporated into the standard quantitative genetic model of evolution. We distill a lot of mathematical theory down into what I hope is a fairly readable account of some pretty complex models!

Maternal effects in Evolution

My paper on maternal effects with Laura Galloway was just published in Evolution. We compared the fit of multiple quantitative genetic models of maternal effects to data from a greenhouse selection experiment in Campanulastrum americanum. We showed that these models differ in subtle ways and that the best predictions are made from a fairly complex model that includes effects that cascade across generations.