Samuel H. Church PhD

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shchurch @ twitter, github

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National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow
Dunn Laboratory, Yale University

hatchlings

Research

I am an evolutionary biologist; I study the relationships between organisms to learn about biodiversity. My research uses field work, lab work, and bioinformatics to investigate evolution across scales of life.

Big questions in my work are:

My work centers on the curation, comparison, and visualization of large trait datsets. To do this, I write software for gathering and comparing high-dimensional data across species.


Evolutionary inference for big developmental data

In my current research, I am developing tools for evolutionary analysis of gene expression data from single-cell sequencing and other RNA-seq technologies. This work combines mathematics, bioinformatics, and developmental and evolutionary biology to build a new analytical framework.

Throughout my research, I advocate for robust null hypotheses that describe how much variation we expect to observe when we compare across species. Check out this twitter thread for a brief explainer:


Life-history evolution and insect eggs

Life-history theory describes how traits like size, shape, and reproductive features are related across organsims and over evolutionary time. I study how developmental biology can modulate these trait relationships.

In my PhD work, I curated a dataset of 10,000+ insect reproductive traits like egg size and shape, by digitizing records from the literature. Our team used this dataset to ask questions like:

picticornis_egg Egg of the Hawaiian fly Drosophila picticornis

Our work was recently published in the journal Nature. For a deep dive on insect egg shape and size, check out our custom data visualization

I also study the organ that makes insect eggs: the insect ovary. Our recent publication in Proceedings of the Royal Society B found that ovary development has a big impact on patterns in ovary structure variation across species.


Hawaiian Drosophila: model clade for evo-devo

Millions of years ago, Drosophila fruit flies found their way to the Hawaiian islands. Now there are many hundreds of species found on Hawaii and nowhere else in the world.

picticornis Adult Hawaiian fly Drosophila picticornis

Given their close relationship to model species like Drosophila melanogaster, this group is primed to be a model clade for evo-devo. In my research, I combine next-gen sequencing and comparative methods to uncover their evolutionary history.

In my PhD work, I sequenced gene expression data across tissues from a dozen Hawaiian species. This work, recently released as a preprint, demonstrates how comparative methods can be used to detect evolutionary changes in gene expression across organs and species.

Phylogenetic software and methods

Phylogenies are hypotheses about the relationships between organisms. Working with Casey Dunn and Joe Ryan, we wrote software to statistically compare phylogenies.

sowhat

We call our software sowhat, feel free to check it out, and reach out if you need any help using it.

This software has been deployed by many researchers, including myself in work on the evolutionary history of invertebrate lineages (e.g. Cnidaria, Siphonophora).

Free Adult Education

I am a passionate educator, and have substantial experience both in the university classroom, and as a volunteer educator to adults in my community.

english_class

I previously ran the Boston-Cambridge English program for adults. These classes primarily serve Portuguese and Spanish speaking adults at all English proficiency levels.

Boston-Cambridge English Class

Publications

Check out my Google Scholar profile for a list of all publications.

Contact

email: samuelhchurch@gmail.com