Research Interest: Computational cell biology
Dr. Thattai uses genomic data to explore the evolutionary origin of eukaryotic cells. All life is cells, and these cells come in two basic flavours: prokaryotes (such as bacteria) tend to be small and morphologically simple; eukaryotic cells (such as those that make up our own bodies) tend to be larger and morphologically complex, made up of numerous internal compartments connected in a web of traffic. The ancestors of eukaryotes first branched from their bacterial cousins about 2.5 billion years ago, and all major features of the eukaryotic cell plan were in place by about 1.5 billion years ago. Surprisingly, this billion-year branch of the tree of life has left no offshoot 'intermediate forms'. Fortunately, evolution leaves clues of its operation, in the genomes of extant organisms. By combining genome sequence data, phylogenetics, and cell biology, Dr. Thattai's group work to reconstruct the series of events that gave rise to complex cells.