Chris Organ (PI & Director of the Honors Interdisciplinary Degree)
I have a broad background in comparative and evolutionary biology with specific training in paleobiology, genomics, and phylogenetic comparative methods. My Ph.D. was earned under dinosaur paleontologist Jack Horner. I was an NIH postdoctoral fellow at Harvard in Scott Edwards’ lab, where my research turned to genome evolution. I also worked in the Department of Genetics and Genomics at Biogen. My research is driven by phylogenetic comparative methods I help develop with Mark Pagel and Andrew Meade (University Reading, UK). My current research program at Montana State University is located within the Department of Earth Sciences and the WIMU Regional Program in Veterinary Medicine. I also serve as the Director of the Directed Interdisciplinary Studies Program in the Honors College and am the Senior Bioinformatics Scientist for Montana INBRE, which is funded by the NIH.
Jacob Gardner (PhD Student)
I am currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Earth Sciences at Montana State University. My dissertation tackles two aspects of human evolution: population history and sexual selection. The goal of the first project is to use paleogenomics to assess the population history and genetic adaptations of humans in Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age Northern China. Northern China was an epicenter for the independent development of East Asian farming and state-level societies. However, East Asian population history is poorly known compared to other regions in Eurasia due to the lack of ancient DNA. These analyses will incorporate new ancient human genomes to clarify the relationships and timing of admixture among East Asian populations. The goal of the second project is to test for sexual selection in humans. Although there are numerous phenotypes and genotypes hypothesized to evolve under sexual selection, empirical analyses are restricted to sociological assessments of human attraction. We apply a quantitative test for sexual selection – verifiable for a wide range of animal groups – to human phenotypes and genotypes while accounting for phylogeny and geography. These analyses are the next-step for inferring sexual selection on larger timescales.
Isaura Aguilar (Masters Student)
I am a master student in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Montana State University and did a major in Biology at the Universidad Aútonoma Metropolitana (Mexico City, Mexico). I am interested in the paleobiology of archosaurs, which includes evolutionary biology and functional morphology. As an undergrad, I did my social service at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, mainly identifying fossils of Campanian terrestrial vertebrate fauna. As of now, I am currently working with Dr. David Varricchio and Dr. Chris Organ on a project that has to do with evolutionary trends in non-avian dinosaurs.
Sarah Montalbano (Undergraduate Research Assistant)
I’m a freshman Presidential Scholar in the Honors College at Montana State University studying computer science. My research focuses primarily on using quantitative methods to compare methods of analyzing phylogenetic trees.
Kevin Surya (Undergraduate Research Assistant)
I am an undergraduate student from Indonesia in the Directed Interdisciplinary Studies program under the Honors College at Montana State University. My primary interest is the evolutionary transitions from non-avian- to avian dinosaurs, particularly how modern birds acquired their unique anatomical features. Currently, Dr. Dana Rashid and I, along with our collaborators, are studying tail shortening and fusion in the avian lineage through chicken tail development. Furthermore, I am conducting research under the mentorship of Dr. David J. Varricchio and Dr. Chris Organ on how sexual selection affects dimorphism in the avian pelvis.
Isabelle Brenes (Undergraduate Research Assistant)
I am an undergraduate student at Montana State University in the Department of Earth Science. My research interests include non-avian and avian dinosaur evolution, as well as how developmental patterns may influence evolutionary mechanisms. I have conducted research under the mentorship of Dr. Aki Watanabe that focused on the size and shape changes that occurred in the avian brain along developmental and evolutionary timelines. Currently, I am working with Kevin Surya and Lázaro W. Viñola-López on a project that is looking at sexual dimorphism of the avian pelvis.
Carolyn Kocken (Undergraduate Research Assistant)
I am interested in paleontology and phylogeny. My current research project aims to determine if using morphology to make a phylogenetic tree is less accurate than a genetic-based one. The results of this will lead to a better understanding of how accurate trees are of animals we have little to no DNA from, like dinosaurs.
I’m an undergraduate studying paleontology and museum studies at MSU on a Presidential Scholarship. Like many paleontologists and students in paleontology, my interest in fossil life began shortly after I could walk. I’m especially interested in the behavior of extinct animals, and I hope to explore this topic with phylogenetics. My current project with Dr. Organ revolves around sexual selection in dinosaurs.
Thomas LaBarge (Undergraduate Research Assistant)
I am an undergraduate at Montana State University majoring in paleontology. My research interests involve comparative and evolutionary biology, specifically paleozoology and exploring evolutionary trends in animal behavior. Currently, I am helping to conduct research into Sexual Selection and Display in modern vertebrates.
Jack Wilson (Undergraduate Research Assistant)
I am interested in discerning evolutionary trends in dinosaurs using biostratigraphy and the other components of Unified Frames of Reference. This carries an emphasis on technical, research-based field work and preparation. Such trends connect the dots of dinosaur taxonomy and offer much more in terms of a wide-angle look at ecology and paleobiology. Field and fossil-based research can also offer information on dinosaur lives and behavior. I am additionally interested in integrating technology such as photogrammetry into research.