Jay Taylor is an evolutionary biologist who uses mathematical models and statistical genetics to understand how populations evolve in complex and changing environments. His research has largely focused on two areas. One of these concerns the interplay between demographic and environmental stochasticity in evolving populations. Although many selected mutations are either unconditionally advantageous or deleterious in the environments in which they occur, others probably have fitness effects that vary from one generation to the next in response to environmental changes. Modeling and identifying such mutations is challenging, however, because they are affected both by genetic drift and by fluctuating selection. Professor Taylor's contribution to this problem has been to use coalescent theory to explore the impact of different kinds of fluctuating selection on gene genealogies.
Professor Taylor is also interested in the evolution of parasites that cause chronic infectious diseases such as malaria (Plasmodium spp.) and African sleeping sickness (Trypanosoma brucei). These organisms have evolved elaborate strategies such as antigenic variation which allow them to survive despite being targeted by their hosts' immune systems. In some parasites, such as T. brucei, antigenic variation is achieved with the help of large multigene families that include numerous pseudogenes. However, because these pseudogenes also contribute to antigenic diversity through processes such as segmental gene conversion, they are likely subject to both selection and genetic drift. Current work in the Taylor lab is concerned with understanding the dynamics of pseudogene formation in antigen repertoires using both multiscale mathematical models and analysis of parasite genomes.
More recently, Professor Taylor has become interested in the biology and natural history of soil mites in the Madrean sky islands of southern Arizona and northern Sonora. Although extensive work has been done on the plants, insects and vertebrates occurring within this region, relatively little is known about the acarofauna. Professor Taylor's current projects are focused on characterizing species diversity in these soil mite assemblages, with the longer term goal of using them to explore questions in population genetics and evolutionary ecology. In addition, the lab is examining the diversity and epidemiology of myrmecophilous mites in the Sonoran desert. This work includes both a broad survey of ant species occurring within the region, as well as a more focused study of mites associated with two species of seed harvester ants, Novomessor cockerelli and N. albisetosus.