National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow
Dunn Laboratory, Yale University
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.
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:
@redmakeda and I have a new paper talking about null hypotheses in evo-devo. A null hypothesis answers the question:— Sam Church (@shchurch) April 27, 2020
“How much difference do we expect when we study development in different species?”https://t.co/DdZKDEYUfM
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:
Egg of the Hawaiian fly Drosophila picticornis
Insects lay eggs of all shapes and sizes! This makes them a great system for exploring the way shape and size evolve.— Seth Donoughe (@seth_donoughe) July 3, 2019
This non-technical thread highlights the findings of our new paper in @nature by @shchurch @brunoasm @redmakeda and me.https://t.co/cRPG8YRHbc pic.twitter.com/e717I8wzbS
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.
We have a new publication at @RSocPublishing #ProcB on offspring size, number, and the evolution of the insect ovary! In it we test for general patterns in the shape and structure of ovaries across insects. Here’s a few things we learned from that work: https://t.co/XgZ9eXVirW— Sam Church (@shchurch) May 5, 2021
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.
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.
Phylogenies are hypotheses about the relationships between organisms. Working with Casey Dunn and Joe Ryan, we wrote software to statistically compare phylogenies.
We call our software
sowhat, feel free to check it out, and reach out if you need any help using it.
I am a passionate educator, and have substantial experience both in the university classroom, and as a volunteer educator to adults in my community.
I previously ran the Boston-Cambridge English program for adults. These classes primarily serve Portuguese and Spanish speaking adults at all English proficiency levels.
Check out my Google Scholar profile for a list of all publications.