The shape of a bird’s beak or a whale’s flipper contains information not only about the organ’s function but also about its history. Similarly, information stored in DNA includes not only instructions about a cell’s function or how to turn a fertilized egg into an embryo, but also a record, imperfect to be sure, of the organism’s biological past, and its history of change and adaptation. Far from the prevailing notion of the genome as a “blueprint”, the DNA of any organism more likely resembles a continually edited palimpsest, assembled over 3.5 billion years, whose sequence of letters contains important clues to major organism features that are largely yet to be deciphered. In my laboratory at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, we study the DNA record to gain insight into the patterns and processes of evolution. We do so using both computational and experimental approaches to address three major and very broad questions: (1) how fungi evolved their remarkable metabolic capabilities, (2) how we can elucidate the tree of life using genome-scale approaches, and (3) how human pregnancy evolved.
I grew up in Elefsina, Greece, a small industrial town 15 miles northwest of Athens. I received my undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Crete, Greece (1993-1998), which is where I got the bug to become an evolutionary biologist, and my PhD from Edinburgh University, Scotland (1998-2001), which is where I became one. I obtained further training, first as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2002 – 2005), and later as a research scientist at the Broad Institute (2005 – 2007), before arriving in Nashville and at Vanderbilt in the summer of 2007, where I am currently a Professor in the Departments of Biological Sciences and of Biomedical Informatics, a holder of the Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair in Biological Sciences, and the Director of the Vanderbilt Evolutionary Studies Initiative.
I have co-authored more than 150 peer-reviewed scientific articles that have collectively received more than 13,000 citations. My work has been recognized by many awards, including a Searle Scholarship (2008), a National Science Foundation CAREER award (2009), a Chancellor’s Award for Research (2011), and an endowed chair (2013). Most recently, I was named a 2017 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists Finalist, a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow, and was elected in the 2019 class of fellows of the American Academy of Microbiology. I also serve on the editorial boards of several journals including eLife, Current Biology, G3:Genes|Genomes|Genetics, Microbiology Resource Announcements, BMC Genomics, BMC Microbiology, Fungal Genetics & Biology, Journal of Fungi, and PLoS ONE.
2018 Guggenheim Fellow, 2017 Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists Finalist (US Competition), 2009 NSF CAREER Awardee, 2008 Searle Scholar, 2002 Human Frontier Science Program Long-Term Fellow