Title: Assistant Professor
Building: BEP 103
- Doctor of Philosophy, University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo., Division of Biological Sciences, 2005-2011
- Bachelor of Science, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY, Biology (Honors Program), double minor in History and Communication Studies, 2001-2005
- Postdoctoral fellow, National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), Duke University, Durham, NC, 2011-2014
I am intrigued by variation in the natural world. Sometimes that variation occurs in how organisms look, behave, and live. Diversity also exists on a much smaller scale: within the genome. A genome is the complete set of DNA (all of the chromosomes) possessed by an organism. Since the first draft of the human genome was released over a decade ago, we've gained unprecedented access to the DNA content in our own bodies. As DNA sequencing technology improves, however, we are beginning to realize how much variation exists within and between genomes. Variation arises naturally through mutations that substitute one nucleotide for another or inserts/deletes nucleotides. On a larger scale, whole genes or portions of chromosomes can be duplicated, deleted or moved to other places in the genome. Medical research continues to document how variation in numbers of genes and structural changes in chromosomes are involved in a number of human diseases. However, comparisons between different species suggests that genomic changes have been very important in the evolutionary history of many different types of organisms.
My research focuses on describing and quantifying genomic diversity both within and between species. I am particularly interested in relating how patterns of genomic diversity are related to organismal evolution. A major focus of my research now are transposable elements (TEs), or so-called “junk DNA.” TEs are a type of DNA found in many different types of organisms, including humans, which replicate and move through the genome independently. TEs can influence many other aspects of genomic and organismal evolution, including rates of molecular evolution. For example, plants in the order Asparagales (onion, asparagus, agave) have total amounts of DNA (genome size) which varies greatly between species. I used computational methods to describe the TEs found in their genomes and to determine whether they could be responsible for the variation in genome size. My research indicates that TEs are highly variable in these species (Hertweck, 2013, Genome).
The research approaches I use include phylogenetics (determining evolutionary relationships between organisms and/or genes), genomics (assembly, annotation, and comparison of genomic data), and other tools from evolutionary biology. I address research questions in these areas using bioinformatics (using computational tools to analyze large biological datasets). I work on a wide variety of organisms, including plants, animals, fungus, and bacteria.
As a scientist, I value open access to research methods and results from other scientists. Thus, I endeavor to share my research both as it occurs and after publication. To find out more about me and my research, please see my publication list Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com/citations?user=dbfo_qUAAAAJ&hl=en). You can find additional information about my professional activities through Impactstory (https://impactstory.org/KateHertweck).
Please visit my research website.