Research in the Roberts laboratory examines the genetic basis of adaptation and speciation, with a focus on sex determination and sexually dimorphic traits such as pigmentation. We utilize a broad range of approaches to examine genotype and phenotype, including genetic mapping in families and natural populations, comparative genomics, gene expression analysis, and developmental biology techniques. While our basic biology work is largely guided by evolutionary questions, it promises to ultimately impact our understanding of vertebrate molecular genetics and development. Indeed, interesting correlations to human development and disease syndromes can be found for the adaptive phenotypes and underlying genetic changes we have identified thus far.
Our model system is the adaptive radiation of East African cichlid fish, particularly those species found in Lake Malawi. With over a thousand species arising within the past one to two million years, African cichlids may represent the most rapidly evolving group of vertebrates on the planet. These fish have incredible phenotypic diversity in a number of traits, including morphology, pigmentation, vision, behavior, and sex determination - providing a vast array of adaptive phenotypic differences for analysis.