The underlying characteristic of the entire Tree of Life is its hierarchical structure: every living organism is made up of smaller units that together function as a more complex, integrated whole. This applies to the smallest building block of life, the cell, up to societies of multicellular organisms with their obligatory symbionts. The hierarchical structure of life is the result of evolution, more specifically of a process that was coined ‘major evolutionary transitions’, in which previously independently replicating entities form a group and replicate as a new unit.
We are interested in how groups of individuals – of the same kind or of different kinds – can form new individuals and how their individuality is maintained. We examine several examples for evolutionary transitions that take place over different timescales – from ecological to macro-evolutionary ones.
We use a number of model organisms in experimental evolution studies that we combine with analyses of phenotypic variation, life history traits, genomics, transcriptomics, and phylogenomics. We enjoy interdisciplinary collaborations, for example with bioinformaticians, theoreticians, and philosophers of science.