We aim to integrate the poorly studied protists (i.e. microbial eukaryotes) in global evolutionary models. Protists have dominated eukaryotic life since the origin of complex cellular structures, but very few species are in culture and so they have mostly remained enigmatic. As a result, we only have a very partial view of the broad eukaryotic diversity, which prevents us to derive an accurate picture of the origin and evolution of the cells that ultimately resulted in the diversity we can observe today. In my group, we explore the microbial dark matter to bridge gaps in our understanding of the deep eukaryote evolution. We think that it is crucial to reveal currently unknown or enigmatic diversity in order to be better equipped to infer evolution.
Our main questions relate to some of the most transformative lifestyle transitions in the evolution of complex life, such as the origin and spread of the photosynthetic organelles called plastids. Life as we know it is a result of these key evolutionary events. No less!
To tackle these questions, we use a combination of culture-independent genomics, transcriptomics, environmental DNA (eDNA) approaches such as long-read metabarcoding but also increasingly advanced fluorescent microscopy. This allows us to detect and characterise the diversity from several complementary angles. Together, we think that these approaches will produce a much more accurate representation of eukaryote evolution so that we can better reconstruct the history of life and the ancestral characteristics of the major eukaryotic groups.