We are focused on understanding the function
and evolution of small regulatory RNAs, in particular microRNAs (miRNAs).
These genes can potentially regulate the majority of protein-coding
transcripts in a genome and are thought to have played a major role during
animal evolution. The appearance of large numbers of new miRNA genes
correlates with periods of increasing complexity, in early bilaterian
evolution, and during the origin of vertebrates and placental mammals. Many
human miRNAs are highly conserved in flies and nematodes, yet previous
estimates have suggested that the majority of their target genes are not
shared. This apparent contradiction raises interesting questions regarding
the conservation of the function of miRNAs in different animal lineages. In order to discover genes that are functionally
responding to miRNAs across multiple organisms, we design computational
algorithms to analyze large-scale microarray and RNA-Seq expression datasets.
We also collaborate closely with experimental labs, helping to design
experiments that directly perturb the function of one or more miRNAs. We then
use a variety of new sequencing technology applications to discover the genes
and pathways that are under miRNA regulation.