Al’s research explores how the long-term evolution of animals is affected by the processes of biological development – the change from fertilised egg to full-sized adult. This field of evolutionary developmental biology, or “evo-devo”, has the potential to allow us to predict certain aspects of how animals will change through evolution over time. The focus of Al’s research is the evolution, development and function of the teeth of mammals over their 200 million year history, including fossil and modern species.
The multidisciplinary research in Al’s lab combines fossils and modern biotechnology to demonstrate some of the limits on evolution. This has included discovering a rule of how teeth evolve that shows humans are constrained in the same way as mice – both show the same evolutionary trends and limitations. Al has also invented a new technique for predicting the diet of extinct animals by using state-of-the-art 3D imaging to measure the complexity of teeth. This new method opens up a window on the past diversity of life. Another avenue of research has been the speed of evolution, where he has demonstrated how long it takes to evolve an animal the size of a mouse into one the size of an elephant.