Contacts and Lab members

Pierre Durand

Email: pierre “dot” durand “at” wits “dot” ac “dot” za
+27 (11) 7172165



PD with Rachel and Matthew


PD with Rachel and Matthew

Nisha, Andrew and Jonathan

Nisha, Andrew and Jonathan

Ms. Nisha Dhar
PhD Student 2012-
Project title: Evolutionary processes at the origin of life
Summary: Understanding the steps or the precise mechanism of how and why a random collection of biomolecules (catalytic RNA) formed higher levels of complexity or an ordered assemblage that displayed at least some of the biochemical properties that we associate with life.



Mr. Jonathan Featherston
PhD student: 2011-
Project title: Genomic and genetic changes during the transition to multicellularity in the volvocine algae.
My research involves genome sequencing of various members in the Volvocine lineage. The aim of the research is to identify the molecular basis for the evolution of complexity in this lineage. This lineage consists of organisms with a varying degree of complexity from single cells to multicellular organisms with true cell differentiation.



Mr. Andrew Ndhlovu
MSc student 2012-2015
Project Title: A novel evolutionary rate alignment algorithm to infer protein domain function
This research is focused on developing a sequence alignment algorithm that uses the evolutionary rate (dN/dS) or selective pressure at amino acid codon sites as a scoring metric to produce alignments. The algorithm is implemented in a computer program named FIRE (Functional Inference using Rates of Evolution) written in the Python programming language. The project is also focused on producing a database of evolutionary rates profiles of all the protein families found on the PFam protein domain database.



Santosh SatheDr. Santosh Sathe
URC Post doctoral fellow
Project 1
Title: The proximate causes and the role of kinship in the evolution of multicellularity in the volvocine algae
The evolution of multicellularity has been considered as one of the major transition in evolution. Multicellular individuals (because of increased size and division of labour between different cell types) have obvious fitness advantages over their unicellular ancestors. However, the reasons that lead to unicellular to multicellular transition and the role of genetic relatedness in such transitions are not known. A group of green algae (volvocine) which comprise unicellular Chlamydomonas and multicellular Volvox offers a good study system to address these issues. We are studying if the predation pressure leads to multicellular group formation in otherwise unicellular Chlamydomonas and whether the groups are genetically heterogeneous.

Project 2
Title: Evolutionary origin and maintenance of group living and programmed cell death in volvocine green algae and algal blooms.
I am examining the proximate causes for the fitness effects of programmed death in the model chlorophyte Chlamydomonas. The role of programmed death in algal blooms is being investigated.


Mrs. Yogita Dolas
Laboratory visitor (2014)
Project title: The role of grazing in the disappearance of algal blooms in an artificial pond.
Project summary: Algae are known to bloom in natural and artificial water bodies. We have been monitoring the algal growth in an artificial pond where we observed that the algae bloom and for unknown reasons disappear over a couple of days. It has been hypothesised that the algal blooms crash because they are predated heavily upon by the naturally occurring predators. To study this we have isolated algae and their potential predators from the pond and are studying whether grazing alone (or whether another factor like programmed death) can account for the rapid demise fall of the algal bloom.




Rajdeep ChoudhuryDr. Rajdeep Choudhury

 Postdoctoral fellow 2012-2013
Project title: Molecular basis for the adaptive evolution of programmed cell death
Summary: My postdoctoral research interest involved around the investigation of the evolutionary origin of programmed cell death (PCD) in unicellular organism Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Our aim was to build on the initial evidence for group selection as an adaptive explanation for PCD in C. reinhardtii, and identify potential proximate mechanisms.





Mr Nishant Garg (2015)
Boston University Medical School

Professor Cristian Solari (2015)
University of Buenos Aires

Mrs. Yogita Dolas (2014)

Prof Rich Michod (2014)
University of Arizona