A paper co-authored by Assistant Professor of Biology Rhea Datta was recently published in the journal eLife. “Ancient mechanisms for the evolution of the Bicoid homeodomain’s function in fly development” found that two mutations that arose 140 million years ago changed the function of a critical developmental gene, which now regulates development of the head and other structures in virtually all species of present-day flies. The authors recreated ancient genes and put them into fruit flies to reveal how ancient mutations drove major evolutionary changes in embryonic development. The study is the first to use ancestral reconstruction in the field of the evolution of development or evo-devo.
Datta’s research focuses on how proteins bind to and recognize specific DNA sequences in a cell to activate the expression of genes during development. Her research group at Hamilton College focuses specifically on gene regulation during eye and embryo development, looking at processes ranging from neurodevelopment to tissue patterning. By studying biological processes ranging from neurodevelopment to tissue patterning, Datta’s work may uncover mechanisms on how mutations in gene regulation can cause profound disruptions in embryonic development and result in congenital diseases.