Emília Santos | Principal Investigator, NERC Independent Research Fellow


During my master’s degree I studied the gene structure and function of the FoxP gene family in Drosophila and mouse. It was a fantastic project, but throughout its duration I realised that the topic I felt more passionate about was the evolution of morphological diversity. What are the genes, mutations and developmental mechanisms responsible for the emergence of morphological variation? I then moved on to do a PhD on the evolution of pigmentation patterns in cichlid fishes . For my  post-doc, I added one more model organism to my experimental portfolio – the Rhagovelia insects. In this project I studied the genetics, development, and function of a novel cuticular structure present only in the Rhagovelia genus. During the process we described new species and got to name two genes! At the moment, we are focusing on neural crest cells and pigmentation evolution in cichlid fishes. In the future, we will also be carrying out projects on the evolution of the Rhagovelia fan. If you want more details on what we are up to, you are welcome to visit our research tab.

When I am not in the lab, I love to grow my own vegetables, live waste free, take some snapshots and play for the Cambridge Cats!

Aleksandra Marconi |Wellcome Trust PhD student


My main research interests lie in understanding how developmental and genetic mechanisms are related to evolutionary patterns. I am focusing on the evolution and development of the neural crest and pigment cells in cichlid fishes.  I am exploring how changes at the level of the genome, gene regulatory networks and developmental mechanisms during embryogenesis can affect morphological evolution of the neural crest-derived features and generate natural phenotypic diversity. When I am not in the lab, I enjoy practicing yoga, running and film photography.



Joel Elkin | Mphil Student

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While studying for my BSc, I developed an interest in broad evolutionary questions and explaining the amazing array of morphological diversity we see in nature. I sought a group investigating the underlying developmental and evolutionary bases for animal morphology, and I am now working on cichlid pigmentation development in the context of sexual selection and mating preference. My project uses CRISPR-mediated knockout coupled with imaging of different developmental stages to explore how pigmentation patterns arise. Outside of research I enjoy fencing, travelling, and playing bass guitar.



Past Members

Elio Escamilla |Erasmus student


After finishing my BSc Biomedical Sciences, I decided to seek for a lab that studies Evolutionary Genetics and Development, topics that I have always been interested in. I joined Emília’s group in the hope of learning and developing my skills in these areas. Now, I can honestly say that I am a cichlid lover and that I would love to keep exploring its morphological evolution in further studies. In the lab I optimised a multiplex gene expression protocol for different cichlid species.