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
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.
Brittany joined the Rokyta Lab in July 2016 and is in the Cellular and Molecular Biology Ph.D. program at Florida State University. Brittany received a B.S. in Biology in 2014 from the University of Minnesota, Morris. She is generally interested in understanding the components of viruses, the roles they play in viral life cycles, and the mechanisms through which they evolve in response to different environmental selective pressures. Brittany is just starting her work in bacteriophage experimental evolution and is studying the biophysical bases for the evolution of low- and high-pH tolerance in bacteriophages. Her research will be used to determine whether similar or disparate mechanisms are used by bacteriophages adapting to these superficially similar selective pressures and whether the same protein regions are involved in both.
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 interested in using patterns of venom variation in snakes to better understand the process of speciation at the molecular level, as well as identifying landscape-level ecological factors delimiting venom composition across snake taxa.
Victoria joined the Rokyta Lab in 2010 and is a Ph.D. candidate in the Cellular and Molecular Biology program at Florida State University. She received her B.A. in Biology from the University of Maine at Farmington in 2009. She is currently studying viral population genetics in local wastewater treatment plants by means of culture-independent high-throughput sequencing. She is investigating the structure of genetic diversity for viruses with ssDNA genomes, particularly those in the families Circoviridae, Geminiviridae, and Microviridae.
Andrew joined the Rokyta Lab in 2010 and is a Ph.D. candidate in the Ecology and Evolution program at Florida State University. Andrew earned 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 is currently studying bacteriophage experimental evolution and is interested in whether complex selective pressures (i.e., simultaneous selection on multiple phenotypes) impede adaptation. His other projects include measuring epistatic interactions among beneficial mutation and determining the prevalence of parallel evolution across genotype adapting to the same selective conditions.
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!
Alyssa joined the Rokyta Lab in 2014. She received a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in German from Florida State University in 2013 and is currently a volunteer in the Rokyta Lab and a laboratory technician working in the Lemmon Lab at Florida State University. Alyssa is generally interested in snake-venom evolution and population genomics of snakes. Her current project involves using proteomics and genomics to study geographic variation of venom in the rock rattlesnake (Crotalus lepidus).
Hunter joined the Rokyta Lab in 2015 as an undergraduate in the Biology program at Florida State University. Hunter is using experimental evolution of bacteriophages to study the evolution of tolerance to extreme heat (80°C) and low pH (1.5).
Laura joined the Rokyta Lab in 2017 through the Women in Math Science and Engineering (WIMSE) program at Florida State University. She is currently a sophomore in the Biology program. Laura is working with Micaiah Ward in studying venom composition and evolution in centipedes and scorpions.
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.
Diana joined the Rokyta Lab in 2015 through the Women in Math Science and Engineering (WIMSE) program at Florida State University. She is currently a junior in the Biochemistry program at Florida State University. She is working on the bacteriophage experimental-evolution project and studying the adaptation of bacteriophages to low pH (1.5).
Ellen joined the Rokyta Lab in 2016 as an undergraduate in the Biology program at Florida State University. She is working on the bacteriophage experimental-evolution project. She is selecting bacteriophages for resistance to high and low pH to help characterize the genetic and biophysical basis for pH tolerance in viruses.
Lauren joined the lab in 2015 as an undergraduate in the Biology program at Florida State University. Lauren is working with Micaiah Ward in studying venom composition and evolution in centipedes and scorpions.
Bryan joined the lab in 2015 as an undergraduate in the Biology program at Florida State University. Bryan is working with Micaiah Ward in studying venom composition and evolution in centipedes and scorpions.
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, and is currently a postdoc in lab of Dr. Anne Bronikowski at Iowa State University.
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.
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).”