Mechanisms of Evolution

“The key to every biological problem must finally be sought in the cell, for every living organism is, or at some time has been, a cell.”  

E.B. Wilson, 1925 The Cell in Development and Inheritance

Evolution is a population-level process and all evolutionary change starts at the cellular level. Our goal is to decipher the general rules by which evolution proceeds in different phylogenetic lineages, using an approach grounded in empirical observation and a mathematical framework, to empower all areas of the life sciences and inform our ability to solve key practical issues.

Exploring evolution at the cellular level

Evolution is a fundamental process with profound impact on our daily lives - from the rise in antibiotic resistance to responses to global environmental change. Evolutionary change starts at the cellular level. But traditional evolutionary theory often ignores the details that drive change and instead focuses on what has already evolved. Consequently, little is known about how evolution proceeds at a mechanistic level; specifically, its molecular and cellular detail.

The Center focuses on the specific mechanisms that govern evolutionary change, starting with the building blocks of cells. We are focused on the integration of population-genetic theory with empirical work from molecular and cell biology, biophysics, and biochemistry. Central to this research is the development of mathematical theory and computational procedures, their applications to diverse organisms, and the implementation of long-term evolution experiments. Our goal is to decipher the general rules by which evolution proceeds in different lineages of organisms using experimental laboratory results and a mathematical framework. In essence, we are aiming to establish an entirely new field called evolutionary cell biology.



By understanding the cellular and population-genetic barriers to evolutionary change, we aim to understand how such constraints can be overcome or imposed to expand the evolutionary potential of beneficial species and curtail evolutionary adaptation in harmful species. This knowledge will be applied to pressing issues, including:

  • Evolutionary changes of disease-causing organisms.
  • The emergence of antibiotic resistance.
  • The establishment of harmful populations such as blue-green algal blooms.
  • The response to global environmental change.
  • The development of new strategies for biomass production



  • Microbial evolution experiments.
  • Predictive mathematical theory for evolution.
  • Understanding long-term evolutionary processes from population-level genome sequencing projects.
  • Quantifying the rates at which errors, such as mutations, accumulate within organisms, as well as their causes and consequences.