NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology FY 2015

Project: Research project

Project Details


This action funds an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology for FY 2015, Broadening Participation. The fellowship supports a research and training plan in a host laboratory for the Fellow and a plan to broaden participation of groups under-represented in science. The title of the research plan for this fellowship to Phillip Barden is 'Utilizing fossils in the age of genomes: a case study of ants and amber.' The host institution for this fellowship is Rutgers University-Newark, and the sponsoring scientist is Dr. Jessica Ware.

As the cost and difficulty of generating molecular (DNA) data decreases, new questions are emerging regarding the role of paleontological information in the 'age of genomes.' While massive DNA-based datasets offer unprecedented insight into the history of life on Earth, fossils can provide otherwise unknowable details related to evolutionary timing, ancient morphology, and biogeography. The fellowship research seeks to evaluate the utility of fossils in large-scale molecular datasets through the lens of one of nature's greatest success stories. Today, ants comprise over 13,000 highly social, diverse, and ecologically impactful species found across terrestrial vegetated landscapes worldwide - but this was not always the case. The fossil record suggests that ants were a relatively minor component of arthropod fauna until approximately 50 million years ago. In addition, paleontological evidence, particularly amber fossil deposits, suggests that many of the earliest ants were distinct from their modern relatives and ultimately doomed to extinction. What drove some lineages to extinction while others led to modern levels of diversity and prevalence? Why did prevalence remain low for so long? Paleontological data are being derived from newly discovered fossils from approximately 100 to 50 million years ago, as well as numerous species known from other key moments in ant diversification and extinction. High throughput DNA sequencing is being utilized as a cost-effective method for obtaining large amounts of molecular data for living species. Combined analyses of molecular and morphological data provide a foundation for testing hypotheses relating to the history of ants, as well as a case study for incorporating fossil and large-scale molecular datasets. Ants are an emerging model system for research ranging from artificial intelligence to the study of aging and gene networks, and genome-scale molecular datasets are generated for numerous other organismal groups with rich fossil histories.

Training goals include gaining expertise in molecular sequencing and bioinformatics to compliment previous training in paleontology and systematics. Educational outreach at Rutgers University-Newark, recognized as one of the most diverse national universities in the United States, includes serving as a role model and mentoring high school and undergraduate students in fossil description, molecular sequencing, and analysis to generate excitement and encouragement for scientific research among underrepresented groups.

Effective start/end date9/1/158/31/17


  • National Science Foundation: $138,000.00


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