Assistant Professor of Biology Daven Presgraves has won a David and Lucile Packard Foundation fellowship. Presgraves will use his $875,000 fellowship to explore the speciation genes that thwart cross-species hybrids from reproducing.

Presgraves focuses on the barriers that prevent different species from exchanging genetic material. This is called the ‘large X-effect” and pushes two species on deviating evolutionary paths.

Scientists expect evolutionary changes in DNA to gather randomly across the genome, but Presgraves discovered that most changes causing hybrid sterility actually group unaccountably on the X chromosome.

Presgraves thinks there is something distinctive about the X chromosome that attracts genes that interrupt the formation of sperm in hybrid males.

He plans to use the funding to investigate what special trait allows the X chromosome to attract these genes.

‘The Packard award is a terrific honor, and it provides a great opportunity for us to tackle one of the burning questions in our field; what kinds of evolutionary changes in the genome cause one species to split into two species?” Presgraves said.

‘Going forward, we’ll combine comparative genomics, genetic mapping and molecular biology to get the answer,” he added.

Schneier is a member of the class of 2011.

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