Biology professor awarded NSF research grant

Publication Date

Roman Yukilevich, assistant professor of biology, has been awarded an Evolutionary Ecology grant from the National Science Foundation.

The $103,562 grant will be used for his collaborative project with a faculty researcher at Williams College, “Phenotypic and genomic patterns of divergence across a young Drosophila species complex.”

Focusing on fruit flies, the study aims to advance the understanding of the process of speciation, the splitting of one species into two.

Researchers will study three species of fruit flies that diverged from a common ancestor species in the last 5,000-16,000 years.

By studying closely related species, researchers said it’s possible to tease apart which genetic changes led to the original separation versus which changes happened afterwards.

Specifically, the project will identify what genetic differences are associated with differences in mating behavior and morphology that restrict or even prevent interbreeding between newly diverged species.

“If we want to understand how and why evolution generates the tremendous biodiversity we have on Earth, we have to understand the mechanisms by which a single species splits into multiple species,” Yukilevich said in a recent alumni magazine article. “Studying animals that have undergone speciation in the recent past provides an amazing opportunity to understand the processes by which biodiversity is generated.”

Yukilevich joined Union in 2012. He received his bachelor of science in 2000 from the University of Illinois at Chicago and his Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 2008.

Among his research interests are speciation, population genomics and the genetic architecture of complex traits.