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!

What the McGlothlin Lab did this summer

It’s been a busy summer so far in the McGlothlin Lab. So busy, in fact, that I managed to let most of June and all of July slip by without an update. So here goes!

First, two weeks ago, the lab bid farewell to our postdoc, John Abramyan. John recently accepted a position at University of Michigan-Dearborn, where he’ll be starting up his own lab and returning to his roots as a developmental biologist. I’m really excited for John to take the next step in his career, but he’ll be hugely missed here. John brought a great presence and an excellent skillset to the lab, and he made everyone around him better. We’re still working on a manuscript or two, so keep your eyes open for John’s papers.

Fortunately, I have been able to recruit another postdoc to the lab. Angela Hornsby, who is currently a PhD student at University of Nevada, Reno, will be joining us in January after she defends her dissertation in the fall. I’m excited to welcome her to the lab and start collaborating!

Back in June, John, Julie, Tamara, and I attended the Evolution 2016 meeting in Austin, TX. For some highlights of the meeting, check out #evol2016 on Twitter. I gave a talk on where our snake work has progressed since our most recent paper, and the rest of the lab gave posters. Check out the writeups of Tamara’s poster and Julie’s poster on Anole Annals!

The lab in Austin.

After Evolution, Julie headed to Florida for a few weeks of field work chasing lizards. She’s back now, with a big pile of data, some new lizards, and a lot of experiments to run in the fall!

Tamara has set up a lizard breeding experiment to look at genetic population differences in thermal tolerance, which is already bringing even more baby lizards into the lab.

Tyler Miller has been working on an independent research project as a Fralin SURF fellow this summer. Last week, he did double duty presenting his work, giving both a poster and a great talk! Tyler and I hope that we can finish up this project in the fall so that we can share our exciting results with you.

Tyler at his SURF poster.

I’ve been chained to my desk analyzing data and writing for the better part of the summer. I hope I’ll be able to share some of these efforts with you soon. They did let me out briefly to give a talk at Mountain Lake Biological Station, my old stomping grounds.

OK, three more weeks until classes start. Time for some more writing!

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.

Looking for a new postdoc

Our postdoc John Abramyan will be moving on to a faculty position this fall. (Alas, this is what happens when you hire good people!) Therefore, I’m looking for a new postdoc to work on our voltage-gated sodium channel project. Apply here if you’re interested, and please spread the word!

No bird like the Snowbird

Snowbird, a new book edited by my Ph.D. advisor, Ellen Ketterson, and former labmate Jonathan Atwell, is now available for purchase from University of Chicago Press. This book is a detailed review of decades of work by Ellen and others on the plucky little junco. I was involved in a couple of chapters that provide a snapshot of my dissertation work.

Ellen and Jonathan also spearheaded a junco film a couple of years ago that is highly recommended viewing.

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.