People & Research
Those Who Keep Us Running
I started working with Lepidoptera nineteen years ago in the butterfly garden of the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. In 2002, in Volcan, Chiriqui, I had the opportunity to build, what was at that time, the largest butterfly house in Panama. Presently, I manage the insectaries of Gamboa, Panama. I have worked here for 5 years and consider it a privilege because I enjoy what I do. When working with what you enjoy, it isn’t really work.
The Origins of Diversity
Featured Scientists and Students:
I am a cellular and molecular biologist that received my PhD at University Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris France. My interest led me to pursue projects on insect genetics and biotechnology in academic research as well as government institutions in New Zealand, Panama, and USA. Presently at STRI, I study the genetic control and regulation of wing color patterns in Heliconius butterflies as a model to understand the genomic basis of evolutionary change by using and developing modern biotechnological tools.
Krzysztof “Chris” Kozak
I am an evolutionary geneticist with a drive to understand the origins and maintenance of biodiversity, particularly in the spectacularly rich Neotropics. I completed my BA at Harvard, and received my MPhil and PhD on the phylogenomics of Heliconius at Cambridge under the supervision of Chris Jiggins. After a brief hiatus to ponder malaria at the Sanger Institute, I joined STRI as the Biodiversity Genomics Fellow to study population genomics of the parallel radiations in H.erato and H. melpomene.
My main interest is to understand how conserved gene regulatory networks evolve to control the diversity of patterns in butterfly wings. Through the use of gene editing technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9, I aim to study the function of the genes involved in the development of butterfly wing patterns across the Heliconius radiation. A major focus of my research is to functionally characterize the alleles driving morphological evolution across this wonderfully diverse group of butterflies.
My website is sites.google.com/brookes.ac.uk/luca-livraghi/
Edgardo Santiago Rivera
My research focuses on understanding how genetic expression leads to the development of new traits. Heliconius radiation provides an excellent model to study the development of new phenotypic traits because of its great diversity in the butterflies. Years of study have identified which genes are involved in color and pattern expression as well as natural selection factors such as predation by birds and mimicry. To understand how the butterflies produce these patterns, I study the melanin pigmentation gene, wntA, on Heliconius wings. The tests I use at STRI are CRISPR KO of wntA, to identify wntA function on phenotype; RNA-seq genetic expression profile, to determine genes whose expression is regulated by wntA; and ATAC-seq DNA profile, to determine non-coding regulatory regions involved in wntA expression. Together, this data can reveal how wntA is responsible for the radiation of melanin pigmentation in Heliconius butterflies.
I am a doctoral student from the Counterman lab interested in the evolution of color patterns in Heliconius butterflies. Expanding upon previous research, I am investigating the role of the optix gene in the formation of hind wing rays in Heliconius erato. In order to infer function, I am carrying out CRISPR-Cas9 knock-outs on a 7 kilobase region suspected of playing a major role in rayed phenotypes.
I am also using predation experiments to investigate the ecological pressures that underlie local adaptation and polymorphic mimicry in Heliconius doris across south and central America.
Genetics of Behavior
Featured Scientists and Students:
I am an evolutionary and behavioral ecologist with a particular interest in understanding how ecology drives biological adaptation. My current project at the Merrill lab focuses on the wing patterns of two species of Heliconius butterflies, H. cydno and H. melpomene, exploring the genetics of mate preference and, more broadly, the evolution of mate preference in the context of speciation. I am also using Heliconius butterflies as a system to examine the behavioral ecology of learning in their predators.
My website is www.chiyunkuo.com
I am a Ph.D. student at Cambridge University studying the importance of chemical signaling for mate choice in Heliconius butterflies. My investigation combines behavioral, chemical, and genetic data collected both in the field and in the insectaries in Gamboa. I found that pheromones on the wings of adult male butterflies are important for female mate choice. Understanding the pheromones’ ecology and evolution requires knowing the genetic and environmental factors that affect their production, so I focus on the role of larval and adult diet. I also study geographic variation in male pheromones across Latin America.
I received my BSc from the University of Padua (Italy), and my MSc from Uppsala University (Sweden) and LMU Munich (Germany) as part of the MEME program. I conducted my MSc thesis in Nicolas Gompel’s lab, working on the genetics of pigmentation pattern evolution in Drosophila. I am now a PhD student in the Merrill lab in Munich. My main research interests lie in the genetic basis of behavioral evolution. I am using a combination of genomic, transcriptomic and functional approaches to try to identify the genetic changes that underlie differences in male visual preference behavior between Heliconius species.
Featured Scientists and Students:
Denise Dalbosco Dell’Aglio
I have always been fascinated by Heliconius ecology, and I have been working with these butterflies since my undergraduate studies in Brazil. For my PhD I moved to the University of Cambridge, where I studied Heliconius colours signals of different co-mimic pairs combining sensory ecology with behavioural ecology. I explored how mimicry in Heliconius is perceived both from the perspective of predators and conspecifics, using visual abilities of both butterflies and birds. Now, for my postdoc at STRI in Panama, I will investigate how differences in brain morphology affect behaviour within Heliconius butterflies. Our hypothesis is that differences in environmental conditions might result in differences in flight behaviors, and learning based on vision and olfaction cues.
I’m originally from Perth, Australia, and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Western Australia, before spending a year at the University of Bristol. I’ve recently joined the EBAB lab as a PhD student to investigate the evolution of spatial learning in Heliconius butterflies and its potential links with mushroom body morphology and pollen-feeding behaviour. I’m interested in all aspects of arthropod evolution, with my previous work focusing on fossil Cambrian arthropods from the Sirius Passet in northern Greenland.
I grew up in Santiago de Compostela and Alicante (Spain), where I started an undergraduate degree in Biology. I then moved to the UK to complete my degree at UEA in Norwich. After working for two years on beetle sexual selection and plant genomic and ecological adaptations, I came to Cambridge to complete an MPhil on butterfly wing pattern development with Chris Jiggins. I am interested in the developmental and genomic mechanisms that facilitate adaptive innovation. My PhD aims to describe the developmental peculiarities of expanded mushroom bodies of Heliconius butterflies.