One of our major projects is focused on the evolution of venom from black widow spiders and their close relatives. We are determining the molecular composition of these venoms using genomic approaches to investigate the diversification of potent neurotoxins that enable prey capture. Such work facilitates the discovery of beneficial and hazardous toxins with biomedical significance. This work is currently funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (2R15GM097714-02 Discovering Biomedically Significant Spider Venom Toxins with Genomics).
Another major area of research concerns spider silks, which are renowned for their impressive mechanical properties and exhibit tremendous functional variation within and across species. We are using genomic tools to characterize silk proteins from a variety of species. Phylogenetic analyses of spiders and their silk proteins are used to trace the complex history of silk evolution. Products of our work also include large-scale sequence databases we are assembling for genome annotation and phylogenetic and population genetic marker development.