NITIN PHADNIS portrait
  • Associate Professor, Biology

Research Summary

The Molecular Basis of Speciation - Our lab specializes in identifying hybrid sterility and inviability genes in a variety of Drosophila species. Intra-Genomic Conflict - We are currently studying the molecular basis of segregation distortion in D. pseudoobscura Bogota-USA hybrids, and the SR system in D. pseudoobscura. Causes and Effects of Positive Selection - We are interested in the functional analyses of genes that have evolved rapid sequence divergence under positive selection.

Education

  • B.S., Microbiology, University of Pune
  • Ph.D., Biology, University of Rochester
  • Postdoc, Genomics and Cell Biology, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Biography

My primary motivating factor in science is in devising novel approaches to address fundamental problems in biology. After my undergraduate training in Microbiology, I joined the Indian Institute of Science as an Integrated PhD student. I was one of only eight students selected from a nationwide search for this fast-track PhD program at the premier research institute in India. While I pursued research in molecular biology at the Institute, it quickly became apparent that I could not pursue my passion for questions in evolutionary genetics due to a lack of innovative research in this field in India.

I left this program to pursue my PhD research with Allen Orr at University of Rochester. After an exhaustive search for an appropriate model system to address critical questions in speciation and genetic conflict, I realized that the Bogota-USA subspecies in D. pseudoobscura provided a rare opportunity to address several deep and apparently intractable questions and I earnestly began to develop these species into a powerful genetic system. The heavy investment in this system paid off when I could provide, for the first time, a genetic link to the two phenomena of speciation and genetic conflict. This not only resolved decades of controversy, but also ushered the study of speciation and conflict into the area of molecular biology and cellular mechanisms. During this time, I also simultaneously addressed another classic problem about the evolution and origins of dominance of mutations, which challenged decades old conceptions on the nature of mutations.

During my PhD work, I realized the stark absence of research groups working at the intersection of evolution and cell biology. One such group is Harmit Malik’s group at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and it was obvious to me that this was one of the few places where I could work on integrating these apparently disparate fields. This was the perfect opportunity for me to master critical skills in genomics and cell biology and integrate these skills to address broad problems in biology. This experience laid the foundations of a unique research program at the crossroads of evolution, genetics, genomics and cell biology. I was also able to build a network of collaborators during this time, which are proving productive to this day.

            I am fortunate to open my laboratory at the University of Utah because of the strong collaborative culture within and between departments. My laboratory works very closely with my senior colleagues such as Dr. Kent Golic, who is a world leader in Drosophila chromosome mechanics and in the development of tools for genetic engineering, and Drs. Richard Clark and Mark Yandell who are pioneers in genomics and bioinformatics methods.