Studying the processes that shape the dynamics of how genomes evolve and shape biodiversity by using large-scale sequencing datasets and novel bioinformatic approaches.

I am an evolutionary biologist interested in utilising genomic data to better understand the evolution of genomes across biodiversity. Currently, my work is focused on exploring on genome evolution in butterflies and moths.

Charting chromosome evolution across Lepidoptera

Sam Ebdon
The butterflies and moths, together known as Lepidoptera, are a megadiverse order of insects accounting for 10% of all described species. They are an extremely ecologically diverse and economically important branch of the tree of life. Importantly, they also display the greatest range in chromosome number of any group of eukaryotic species. However, this dramatic variation is limited to a relatively small number of species with many having a stable number of chromosomes. Drawing upon the hundreds of high-quality chromosomal genomes produced by the Darwin Tree of Life project, I have been exploring stasis and change across this insect order to deepen our understanding of the constraints on chromosome evolution and the mechanisms by which species are released from these norms.

The evolutionary basis of novelty

A key theme in evolutionary biology is understanding the genomic basis of phenotypic diversity. In my previous research, I have explored the role of alternative splicing in the generation of wing colour patterns in the neotropical butterflies, Heliconius. This group of butterflies are exemplified by a dramatic range in wing colour patterns and striking convergent evolution in patterning as a result of Mullerian mimicry. This work was carried out in the lab of Prof. Chris Jiggins group at the University of Cambridge.

Genomic resources for Lepidoptera

Genome sequences record the evolutionary history of animals, providing a wealth of information on how they develop, adapt and respond to change. Project Psyche aims to generate chromosome-level genomes for all 11,000 species of butterfly and moths that are found in Europe. This exciting project is led by myself, Joana Meier and Mark Blaxter and involves over 50 researchers, spanning 45 institutes, universities and government agencies in 14 different European countries. It is a collaborative effort that brings together biologists, taxonomists and analysts across the continent to deliver and explore these genomes, enabling insights into diverse aspects of lepidopteran biology and informing conservation efforts.


From left to right top to bottom:
1. Adela paludicolella: Felix Riegel
2. Elephant hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor): Jessye
3. Peacock butterfly (Aglais io): Petr Ganaj
4. Spanish moon moth (Graellsia isabellae): Paul Cools
5. Morning-glory Plume Moth (Emmelina monodactyla): Ian Wright
6. Chalk Burnet (Zygaena fausta): Enrique Baquero
7. Almond Ringlet (Erebia alberganus): Paul Cools
8. Large Fruit-tree Tortrix (Archips podana): giorege1959
9. Bird-cherry Ermine (Yponomeuta evonymella): Pentti Ketola
10. Ocnogyna parasita: SteveM4560
11. Euplocamus anthracinalis: lastovka
12. Purple-shot Copper (Lycaena alciphron): Julia Wittmann

My timeline


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