Research interests:
I currently hold a NERC postdoctoral fellowship based in the Donoghue lab in Bristol. My research aims to understand the fossil evidence for major transitions in early evolution such as the origin of cells, eukaryotes, multicellularity and animals.

My recent research has focussed on the controversial embryo-like fossils from Ediacaran Doushantuo biota. I have used a number of techniques to study these fossils including Synchrotron Radiation X-Ray Tomographic Microscopy (SRXTM) and Electron Probe Micro-Analysis (EPMA). This has allowed us to gain a better understanding of how decay and diagenetic mineralization has affected the organisms. The findings provide new insights into the original biological structure and phylogenetic affinities of the fossils suggesting that they are likely to be protists rather than animal embryos.

Pasted Graphic 1
Peanut-shaped Doushantuo fossils with tens of thousands of cells interpreted as a later developmental stage of the embryo-like fossils.

I am also interested in studying fossilized embryos from the Cambrian to earliest Ordovician. This work aims to decifer the ontogeny, taphonomy and phylogenetic affinities of the embryos, with the key objective of understanding what these fossils can tell us about the role of developmental evolution during the emergence of the animal phyla.

Pasted Graphic 2Virtual models of the Cambrian embryo Markuelia based on SRXTM data.

In collaboration with Charlotte Jeffery Abt of Liverpool University (my former PhD supervisor) I study the evolution of developmental mode in Cretaceous spatangoid sea urchins. This work takes advantage of the fact that sea urchins are unusual in that their larval mode can be determined from adult specimens, which have an abundant fossil record. This allows us a rare opportunity to study temporal patterns in the evolutionary history of larval development.

Pasted Graphic 5
Multiple shifts to non-feeding larvae (blue) in the Late Cretaceous.