Kevin Wei

Assistant Professor

The Wei lab combines genomics, evolutionary, molecular, and developmental biology to understand how selfish genetic elements like transposable elements drive the evolution of genome complexity and regulation of developmental processes. 

Accepting undergrad, grad students and postdocs - email to discuss open positions and research opportunities . 

The Wei lab is interested in how fundamental genetic and developmental processes evolve. While we expect functional importance to necessitate conservation at the genetic level, this is often not the case, and even essential genes and pathways can look very different between closely related species. One of the main drivers of this dichotomy is the existence of selfish genetic elements: these are genes or DNA sequences that have no purpose other than to propagate in genomes even if detrimental to the host organism. The prime example is transposable elements that make copies of themselves and move around the genome, and, in doing so, can cause devastating mutations and genome instability. Another example is meiotic drivers which are genes that hijack meiotic pathways to bias their own transmission to the next generation; but their action is often at the expense of segregation fidelity and host fecundity.

These selfish genetic elements are in a constant cat and mouse game with the genome. Genomic defense mechanisms target them for silencing them while they evolve ways to evade the suppression; this, in turn, puts selective pressure on the genome to adapt in order to re-establish control and maintain genome integrity. This dynamic creates what’s known as a genetic arms-race. The Wei lab seeks to understand the profound impacts these arms-races have on shaping genome architecture and developmental processes like meiosis, embryogenesis and germline development.

We use Drosophila as a model system. But, in addition to the typical lab species, Drosophila melanogaster, we take advantage of the tremendous genetic and species diversity across the entire genus to catch “evolution in action”. Our integrative approach combines genomics, genetics, population, molecular and developmental biology to understand these processes and what drives them to evolve. The wealth of genetic and genomic resources in addition to the tremendous species-diversity make the Drosophila genus as a whole extremely powerful in revealing deep and generalizable insights. Plus, flies are SUPER cool!