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University of Oregon

Joe Thornton

  • Courtesy Research Professor

  • Office: 321 Pacific
  • Phone: 541-346-0328
  • Lab: 322 Pacific
  • Lab phone: 541-346-1537
  • Lab Website

Research Interests

Since Darwin, the central task of evolutionary biology has been to provide a historical explanation for biodiversity — the incredible number of species in nature, each with features so well adapted it to its environment. With the rise of molecular biology, a new level of biodiversity has emerged which demands an explanation — the great variety of genes in our genomes, each with highly specialized and well-optimized functions. We would like to understand the evolutionary dynamics that have determined how genes — or more accurately, the proteins they code for — got their functions. We employ a synthesis of evolutionary and phylogenetic techniques with functional molecular biology. Our current model system — the steroid hormone receptors — is a fascinating gene family of great biological, biomedical, and environmental importance.

Selected Publications

Kolcazkowski B, Thornton JW. A mixed model of heterotachy improves phylogenetic accuracy. Molecular Biology and Evolution (in press), 2008.

Ortlund EA, Bridgham JT, Redinbo MR, Thornton JW. Crystal structure of an ancient protein: evolution by conformational epistasis. Science 317:1544-1548, 2007.

Dean AM, Thornton JW. Mechanistic approaches to the study of evolution: the functional synthesis. Nature Reviews Genetics 8:675-688, 2007.

Kolaczkowski B, Thornton, JW. Effect of branch length uncertainty on posterior probabilities for phylogenetic hypotheses. Molecular Biology and Evolution 24:2108-2118, 2007.

Fox JE, Bridgham JT, Bovee TFH, Thornton JW. An evolvable oestrogen receptor activity sensor: development of a modular system for integrating multiple genes into the yeast genome. Yeast 24:379-390, 2007.


Bi 380 Evolution
Bi 474/574 Molecular Phylogenetics
Bi 410/510 Biology and Politics