The origin and evolution of eukaryotic cells is one of the most exciting yet poorly understood phenomena in all of cell biology. Using gene phylogenies combined with techniques such as electron microscopy and confocal microscopy my research focuses on the structural similarities between protists (protozoa, algae, zoosporic fungi) and how these relate to the evolution and diversification of eukaryotes.
Presently my research is centered on identifying and understanding the basic cell biology of those protists that may provide insights into the nature of the ancestor of all present-day eukaryotes. One result of this work has been to challenge long held beliefs about the relationships between various parasitic protozoa (trypanosomes, trichomonads, Giardia etc.) and free living protists. We are also examining the multiple ways in which protists utilize their cilia for functions other than microtubule sliding based locomotion. Chemosensing, photosensing, mechanosensing, and cell gliding are all functions of protist cilia that may have played an important in cliary origins and evolution. These findings will help not only in our understanding of parasitic organisms but more importantly they will help us to understand some of the basic cellular processes of eukaryotic cells.