Ellen J. Pritham, Ph.D.

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Our current research interests focus on the impact of mobile DNA, (like transposable elements) on the evolution of genome architecture. Transposable elements are parasitic genetic units capable of movement in the genome. This movement can alter gene expression and genome organization. We are particularly interested in how life history traits, such as parasitism, promote transposable element proliferation and in turn influences adaptation. For example, we study how mobile DNA facilitates genome evolution in disease causing pathogenic protozoans (like Trichomonas vaginalis, Phytophthora infestans, Entamoeba sp. and Toxoplasma gondii) when a new niche or environment is colonized or when host switching occurs. We hypothesize that the combination of the effects of non-adaptive processes (like drift) and the exposure to new flora can facilitate both the acquisition via horizontal transfer and the proliferation of transposable elements. The proliferation of transposable elements can facilitate rapid change because they are potent mutagens and provide the platform for recombination. Along these lines we are investigating the role of viruses in the horizontal transfer of transposable elements between eukaryotes.

Some of our laboratory objectives include developing an understanding of:

1. The identification and distribution of novel forms of repetitive DNA.
2. The role of mobile DNA in genome evolution.
3. The influence of nonadaptive processes on mobile DNA proliferation.
4. The role of viruses in the horizontal transfer of transposable elements between eukaryotes.