Darin R. Rokyta, Ph.D.
Dr. Rokyta received a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Texas at Austin in 1999 and a Ph.D. in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology from the University of Idaho in 2006 working with Dr. Holly Wichman. He was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Idaho working with Drs. Paul Joyce and Holly Wichman from 2006 until he joined the faculty at Florida State University in 2008. His research program is designed to characterize the genetic and molecular bases for adaptation and to determine how selection contributes to inter- and intraspecific biodiversity. He uses laboratory selection experiments (i.e., experimental evolution) with viruses that infect bacteria (i.e., bacteriophages) to test predictions from adaptation theory and the extent to which interactions between proteins or conflicting selective pressures on proteins limit adaptive evolution. He also uses this system to characterize the specific biophysical mechanisms used during protein adaptation. In addition, Dr. Rokyta studies venom composition and evolution in snakes, centipedes, and scorpions to determine how selection on an ecologically critical trait such as venom affects patterns of phenotypic and genetic variation within species and divergence among species.
Current Lab Members
Timothy J. Colston, Ph.D.
Dr. Colston joined the lab in July of 2018 to study the genetic basis of evolutionary novelties in complex venom systems and how they drive biological diversification as part of the lab’s jointly funded NSF-FAPESP project Scales of Biodiversity. He recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at George Washington University, funded through multi-institutional NSF grant VertLife, where he used advanced laboratory techniques and museum specimens to combine genetic and trait data to produce fully sampled phylogenies for extant reptiles. Dr. Colston is an evolutionary biologist with a strong background in phylogenetics, host-microbiome interactions and has extensive fieldwork experience in South America and Ethiopia. He is broadly interested in macro-evolutionary questions and is particularly interested in integrating diverse biological collections (e.g. whole specimens, genetic data, associated microbiome, venom) with species natural history data to address questions from the micro to macro scale using an organismal approach. Dr. Colston earned his Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Mississippi and holds Masters and undergraduate degrees in Zoology from the University of Oklahoma.
Matthew L. Holding, Ph.D.
Dr. Holding is an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow and is interested in the evolution of traits mediating interactions between predators and their prey. In particular, he is interested in 1) the effects of trait complexity and demographic history on current patterns of local adaptation in populations, 2) the macroevolutionary consequences of functional trait evolution for species diversity, and 3) the role of evolutionary constraint in producing extant variation in adaptive traits. He uses venomous snakes as a model system, as venom is explicitly involved in species interactions when injected into prey, and can be studied easily with modern physiological and “omic” technologies. He is currently focusing on patterns of venom evolution across the phylogenetic tree of New World pitviper snakes, as well as the co-adaptation of venom composition and the morphology of the venom delivery system in rattlesnakes. He combines transcriptomic, proteomic, and functional data on venoms, modern phylogenetic methods, and ct-scanning of snake skulls to accomplish these investigations.
A. Carl Whittington, Ph.D.
Dr. Whittington joined the Rokyta lab in December 2015 to work on bacteriophage experimental evolution. Dr. Whittington is from Jacksonville, FL, where he earned a B.S. in Biology from University of North Florida in 2003. He earned a Ph.D. in Biological Science in 2011 from Florida State University, where he studied environmental adaptation of muscular calcium-binding proteins in poikilothermic teleost fishes. He is a protein biochemist and broadly interested in protein evolution, biochemistry, and biophysics. Dr. Whittington is using the bacteriophage system to address topics including the biophysical bases of hybrid incompatibilities, the biophysical and biochemical mechanisms underlying adaptation, and biophysical bases for epistasis and its effects on fitness landscapes.
Schyler joined the Rokyta Lab in 2017 and is in the Ecology and Evolution Ph.D. program at Florida State University. Before joining the lab, Schyler earned his B.S. in Biology at Utah Valley University in 2017. Schyler is interested in characterizing venom complexity and investigating protein interactions in venoms using centipedes, scorpions, and spiders.
Michael joined the Rokyta Lab in August 2016 and is in the Ecology and Evolution Ph.D. program at Florida State University. Before joining the lab, Michael earned a B.S. in Biology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2013, then worked for the Orianne Society and as a Biologist for the Brown Treesnake Research Lab in Guam. Michael is currently attempting to infer ecological context for venom diversification in snakes by means of mapping the evolution of chemosensory receptors as a proxy for the organism-environment interface. Like venom proteins, sensory receptors function through direct interactions between predator and prey at the molecular level (e.g., ligand binding of prey scent molecules to olfactory receptors expressed in the vomeronasal organ). Furthermore, both venom toxicity and environment sensation are phenotypically related to fitness; the failure to detect a prey item and the failure to subdue and consume it will theoretically result in the same fitness outcome (i.e., a hungry snake). More recently, Michael has been pursuing novel molecular techniques and strategies to elevate the overall evolutionary perspective on venom relating to expression and regulatory pathways. Mike also produces multimedia representing species involved in the numerous research projects for general use in publications, presentations, and outreach.
Kylie joined the Rokyta Lab in August 2018 and is in the Ecology and Evolution PhD Program at Florida State University. Before joining the lab, Kylie earned a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018.
Gunnar joined the Rokyta lab in August of 2017 and is in the Ecology and Evolution Ph.D. program at Florida State University. Gunnar received a B.S. in Biology and B.B.A in Entrepreneurial Management at Texas Christian University, where he performed research as an undergraduate in Dr. Marlo Jeffries toxicology lab studying the effects of environmental contaminants on the physiological processes of fish. He also worked under the supervision of Dr. Victoria Bennett and Dr. Amanda Hale studying the effects of wind turbines on bat activity. At Florida State, Gunnar has focused on characterizing the venoms of scorpions, centipedes, and spiders and is particularly interested in studying the role of antimicrobial peptides in scorpion venoms.
Micaiah J. Ward
Micaiah joined the Rokyta Lab in 2014 and is a Ph.D. candidate in the Cellular and Molecular Biology program at Florida State University. Micaiah earned her B.S. in Biochemistry at the University of Texas at Austin. Her interests in venom led her to work in the Rokyta lab, where she has been primarily focused on the characterization of centipede and scorpion venoms and the evolution of resistance to these venoms in experimental prey populations of fruit flies. Micaiah was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in 2016!
Laura joined the Rokyta Lab in 2017 as an undergraduate in the Biology program through the Women in Math Science and Engineering (WIMSE) program at Florida State University. Laura is currently studying population dynamics and venom evolution of the striped bark scorpion (Centruroides vittatus).
Elizabeth joined the Rokyta Lab in 2017 as an undergraduate in the Biochemistry program at Florida State University. She is currently a sophomore and working with Micaiah Ward in studying venom composition and evolution in centipedes and scorpions.
Simone joined the Rokyta Lab in 2016 as an undergraduate in the Biology Program at Florida State University. Simone is studying venom composition and variation in the rear-fanged ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus).
Rachel joined the Rokyta Lab in 2017 as undergraduate in the Biology program at Florida State University. Rachel is interested patterns of venom evolution and function in relation to morphology in snakes. She is currently working with Matthew Holding in investigating the co-adaptation of venom composition and the morphology of the venom delivery system in rattlesnakes.
Jason is working with Dr. Colston and is a UROP student. He is using geometric morphometrics to investigate species limits in the Brazilian Lancehead (Bothrops moojeni) and intends to correlate these data with genetic data Dr. Colston generated using RADseq.
Emiliy is working with Dr. Colston and is a UROP student. She is conducting a diet analyses of Ethiopian frogs using metabarcoding approaches and investigating the utility of eDNA to detect endangered amphibians in the Ethiopian highlands.
Kelsey is a senior undergraduate working with Dr. Colston to study the impacts of the venom variation on the microbiome of venomous hosts in addition to working on the Ethiopian amphibian eDNA project.
Lauren joined the Rokyta Lab in 2016 as an undegraduate in the Biology program at Florida State University. She is currently working with Micaiah Ward studying the evolution of resistance to centipede venoms in fruit flies (Drosophila).
Alex joined the Rokyta Lab in 2018 as an undergraduate in both the Chemistry and the Biology program at Florida State University. He is currently a junior and working with Gunnar Nystrom and Schyler Ellsworth on the composition and evolution of venom in invertebrates (scorpions, spiders, and centipedes).
Brooke joined the Rokyta Lab in 2018 as an undergraduate in the Biochemistry program at Florida State University. She is currently a junior working with Gunnar Nystrom and Schyler Ellsworth sampling and characterizing venom from snakes and invertebrates (scorpions, spiders, and centipedes).
Lucy joined the Rokyta Lab in 2018 as an undergraduate in the Biology program at Florida State University.
Former Lab Members
Former Postdoctoral Scholars
Kenneth P. Wray, Ph.D.
Dr. Wray completed his Ph.D. at Florida State University with Dr. Scott Steppan in 2013 and the joined the Rokyta Lab as a postdoctoral scholar working on snake-venom evolution. He left the lab in August 2015 to become the Director of Research and Conservation at Santa Cruz Forest Reserve, Project Amazonas.
Lindsey Willett-McGee, Ph.D.
Dr. McGee was a postdoctoral scholar in the Rokyta Lab from 2013 though 2015 studying the experimental evolution of biophysical traits of bacteriophage under strong selection. She is currently an Assistant Professor at the College of Wooster.
Former Graduate Students
Mark J. Margres, Ph.D.
Mark joined the Rokyta Lab in 2011 and earned a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution at Florida State University in December 2016. He received his B.A. in biology from Bethany College in 2011 and began a postdoc at Washington State University in Dr. Andrew Storfer’s lab in January 2017. Mark’s dissertation project focused on the genetic basis of adaptation in island populations of eastern diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus adamanteus), particularly whether expression differentiation or substitutions within coding-regions were the primary mechanism underlying adaptive phenotypic divergence over relatively short timescales.
Victoria Pearson, Ph.D.
Victoria joined the Rokyta Lab in 2010 and earned a Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology at Florida State University in November 2017. She received her B.A. in Biology from the University of Maine at Farmington in 2009. For her thesis project, she studied viral population genetics and biodiversity in local wastewater treatment plants by means of culture-independent high-throughput sequencing. She investigated the structure of genetic diversity for viruses with ssDNA genomes, particularly those in the families Circoviridae, Geminiviridae, and Microviridae. Victoria is currently an epidemiologist for the State of Florida.
Andrew Sackman, Ph.D.
Andrew joined the Rokyta Lab in 2010 and earned a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution at Florida State University in April 2017. Andrew received a B.S. in biology from Washington and Lee University in 2010, where he performed research as an undergraduate in Dr. David Marsh’s lab, using genetic and morphological data to investigate a putatively new species of terrestrial salamander, Plethodon sherando. Andrew’s dissertation project focused on bacteriophage experimental evolution and whether complex selective pressures (i.e., simultaneous selection on multiple phenotypes) impede adaptation. His other projects included measuring epistatic interactions among beneficial mutation and determining the prevalence of parallel evolution across genotype adapting to the same selective conditions. Andrew is currently a postdoc at Arizona State University in Dr. Jeffrey Jensen’s lab.
Karalyn Aronow, M.S.
Karalyn completed an honor’s thesis in the Rokyta Lab in 2010 as an undergraduate researcher, then completed her M.S. in Ecology and Evolution from 2013 through 2014. Her thesis was entitled “Snake venom composition, adaptation, and evolution: comparative transcriptomic and proteomic analyses of venoms from the Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) and the Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix).”