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Research Fellows Directory

Thomas Richards

Dr Thomas Richards

Research Fellow


University of Exeter

Research summary

Over 1.5 billion years ago the most important evolutionary transition in the history of life occurred, leading to complex/compartmentalized cellular forms -the eukaryotes. The aim of my research is to understand the evolution and diversification of this form.

My current research focuses on three themes:

1) Endosymbiosis involves one cell living within another with both cells co-operating to share resources. We know little about how these relationships become established. As such, we are developing a system to manipulate the gene functions in a photosynthetic endosymbiosis with the aim to identify the biological systems that drive these co-operative interactions.

2) Genome analysis has demonstrated that gene evolution often does not follow the same pattern of ancestry as species evolution. This is because genes can be passed horizontally between lineages. Identifying the impact of horizontal gene transfer on biological function is rarely studied. Using yeast as a model system we are recreating gene transfer events to understand the impact of these genetic changes on biological function in disease causing microbes.

3) The vast majority of the diversity of life on Earth is microbial, yet only a small proportion of this diversity has been studied. This is because most microbial forms cannot be propagated into culture in the laboratory. To study this hidden majority we sample cells or DNA directly from the environment and use these data to investigate the diversity, evolution and functional capacity of previously unsampled microbial lineages allowing us to fill in many missing branches on the tree of life.

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

Dissecting a nascent phototrophic endosymbiotic interaction

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Dates: Oct 2014 - Dec 2019

Value: £450,607.76