Sex, Death and the Apocalypse

Experimental Evolution at Edinburgh: The Collins lab is part of a group of experimentalists who use microbial evolution to understand apoptosis, sex, cooperation, virulence, and the responses of microbes to climate change. We're not nearly as morbid as we sound. 

The other PI's involved in this fun are Nick Colegrave and Sam Brown.

Meet The Team!


Sinead Collins (PI)

Sinead Collins

I'm interested in how large populations of small organisms adapt to complex environmental changes. Since that's a bit too vague, I focus on how marine phytoplankton adapt to ocean acidification. I use experimental evolution in the lab to figure out the basic theory involved, and then head off to collaborate with oceanographers to apply it to marine systems.

I also just like microbes, especially the green ones. They're the invisible drivers of ecosystems, they do stuff that can only be described as "very cool", and they're insanely beautiful. How could I resist?

Jana Hinners (Postdoc)

Jana smallbutmighty pictureI am interested in how phytoplankton as a crucial component of the marine ecosystem responds to changing environmental conditions and how this can influence ecosystem dynamics. For this purpose, I combine both applied experimental approaches, as well as ecosystem modelling.

In my current project I investigate the fitness landscape of diatoms. The concept of fitness landscapes is used to describe which trait value combinations lead to a high fitness (and thus a fitness peak), and which result in a lower fitness (a valley). The shape of a fitness landscape ultimately decides in which direction populations can evolve in response to changing environmental conditions. But what phytoplankton fitness landscapes actually look like still needs to be understood. To get a grasp on the shape of that landscape in marine diatoms, I am trying to push diatom lines of the Thalassiosira genus from their current fitness peak into fitness valleys via mutation accumulation experiments and then investigate in which direction they evolve out of their valley again.

This is a collaborative project, funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore foundation. Together with our project partners from the labs of Martina Doblin in Sydney and Naomi Levine in California, a high-throughput analysis for phytoplankton traits is being developed, and the data on fitness landscapes is used to simulate in which ocean regions evolution may play a critical role in the light of global change.

You can also find me on Researchgate and Linkedin.


Toby Samuels (Post-doc)

38516124 10156496580256870 7924569811965706240 oElevated carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are causing our planet to warm, resulting in significant increases in sea surface temperatures. This effect is experienced acutely in polar regions, where ocean warming not only puts marine organisms under thermal stress, but exposes them to freshening, lower light levels, reduced nutrient supplies and greater environmental variability. To survive these changing conditions, marine species will need to adapt via evolution. My project (NERC-NSF funded), in collaboration with Tatiana Rynearson at the University of Rhode Island, investigates the evolutionary potential of Southern Ocean diatoms to adapt to ocean warming. Specifically, it explores the interplay between the roles of phenotypic plasticity and genetic diversity in the adaptation of experimentally evolving populations of Actinocylus actinochilus to  increasing temperature and environmental variability.

For more information about me, see my researchgate profile:

Lab Escapees (Alumni)

Eventually, everyone who is not Sinead leaves the lab and go make their own small but mighty empires. 

Ilkka Kronholm 

Elisa Schaum

Matias Scheinin

Heidi Kuehne

Sarah Heath

Rasmus Lindbergh

Georgina Brennan

Diane Lawrence

Heidi Kuehne (Research Assistant)

Heidi Kuehne

I am broadly interested in the evolution of natural microbial populations and specifically interested in the interplay of migration, mating system, and selection as forces that shape microbial population structure. My background is rooted in population genetics and experimental evolution. My PhD work (University of Pennsylvania) uncovered the sympatric population genetic structures of the closely-related yeasts Saccharomyces cerevisiae and S. paradoxus sampled in oak woodlands in North America and Eurasia.