Principal Investigator

Casey Dunn

My CV can be downloaded here.

Contact information:

office 401.863.9806
lab 401.863.2242
fax 401.863.2166

80 Waterman Street
Box G-W
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912

My PhD thesis can be downloaded here.

lab -
book -
cartoons etc -
siphonophores -

Other online stuff:
bitbucket - caseywdunn
google scholar - Casey Dunn
github - caseywdunn
vimeo - Casey Dunn
thingiverse - caseywdunn
twitter - @caseywdunn


Stefan Siebert

My research interests focus on the developmental biology and diversity of hydrozoans (Cnidaria). Central issues of my work concern pattern formation and differentiation processes within the individual and on the level of colony forming entities. The approaches comprise interspecific comparisons on both the molecular and morphological level and aim at conceptual frameworks on (i) how higher levels of organismal complexity are achieved and (ii) how variations in differentiation gene sets lead to species-level phenotypic differences. Hydrozoans are taken as models for the understanding of key transitions in metazoan evolution.

Some of my animal photos are available at flickr:

Felipe Zapata

I am broadly interested in the evolutionary history of life, and in understanding the processes responsible for generating diversity (phylogenetic, functional, or phenotypic diversity). Specifically, I reconstruct gene trees that I use to understand the evolutionary history of organisms or genes, and I study comparatively the processes at the organismal or molecular level shaping these histories. I am also interested in methodological issues in systematics and evolution, ranging from methods on species delimitation to computational challenges in phylogenetic inference. In the Dunn lab, I am working with high-throughput sequencing data to understand the evolutionary history of major groups of animals. Although I am a botanists at heart, in the Dunn lab I am discovering the fascinating world of Metazoa!

You can read more about my work at my google scholar page.

Application Scientist

Mark Howison

As an application scientist at Brown's Center for Computation and Visualization, I help faculty and researchers better utilize high performance computing (HPC) resources, with a focus on bioinformatics applications. My current projects include:

  • Researching faster and better methods for de-novo assembly of genomes and transcriptomes from Illumina sequence data
  • Building infrastructure to assemble phylogenetic matrices from large sequence data sets
  • Engineering software infrastructure for command-line bioinformatics pipelines
  • Designing and piloting Brown's Certificate Program in High-Performance Computing

Graduate Students

August Guang (Applied Math)

I am interested in evolutionary processes and phylogenetics algorithms, and the reproducibility and accuracy of their results. Although the number of programs and algorithms for genome assembly and tree reconstruction expands every year, there is often no way to assess their benefits and drawbacks or to compare between specific programs, and the metrics that are out there are not well understood. Eventually I hope to develop methods that will address these issues.

Catriona Munro

Broadly, I am interested in the origin and evolution of new levels of biological organization. In particular, I am interested in the evolution of functional specialization in siphonophores, and the mechanisms that underlie colony-level development. I am also interested in siphonophore ecology, morphology, and systematics.

Rebecca Helm

I am fascinated by the evolution of major transitions in the history of life, with a particular focus on the origin and evolution of multicellular animal life, and likewise the evolution of colonial animals. I am specifically interested in the evolution of development in cnidarians, as well as their systematics and natural history. Please see my site for more information.

I also write over at Deep Sea News.

Undergraduate Students

Samuel Church

I am a Biology concentrator at Brown University with a focus on comparative biology and phylogenetics, as well as developmental biology. I am interested in the history of life, especially the history of diversification and adaptation within the plant, animal, and fungal phylogenies. Currently, my work includes the histology and development of deep-sea colonial organisms known as siphonophores.


Pathikrit Bhattacharyya

I am a Geology-Biology concentrator at Brown, with interests in evolutionary and organismal biology as well as creative science communication. I am presently studying differential gene expression in siphonophora, a clade of fascinating colonial organisms. My project uses molecular biology techniques to investigate the biology of these organisms from an evolutionary perspective.

Jessica Eason

I am currently a Marine Biology concentrator at Brown, with an interest in the neurobiology and behavior of invertebrates. I am working on a project with Rebbeca Helm involving the evolution of development in a few species of cnidarians, and in particular medusa development. I am also going to explore microscopy (confocal) and husbandry within these same species of cnidarians. These species include Chrysaora quinquecirrha (Atlantic sea nettle), Pelagia noctiluca (mauve stinger jellyfish) Chrysaora colorata (purple striped jellyfish), Chrysaora fuscescens (Pacific sea nettle), Aurelia aurita (moon jellfish), and Vallentinia gabriellae.

Freya Goetz - Tech

My interests are very broad... including phylogenetics, invertebrate symbioses, bioluminescence, chaetognath morphology and life history, and intertidal ecology. Much of my current work in the lab focuses on preparing field collected specimens for next-generation sequencing to address a variety of questions, as well as optimizing RNA isolation and cDNA preparation for broadly sampled non-model organisms.

Norian Caporale-Berkowitz - Undergrad

I am currently studying bdelloid rotifers, a group of tiny asexual invertebrates who are capable of drying out and remaining dormant for years without aging or metabolizing. My project uses Illumina sequencing to study the impact of desiccation on the bdelloid genome in order to look at the relationship between desiccation and asexuality. More broadly, my interests include genome evolution, multi-level selection theory, and the evolution of cooperation and sexual reproduction, as well as scientific communication and creating tools to spread scientific literacy.

Stephen Smith - Postdoc

My research interests broadly include many aspects of evolutionary biology. Specifically, I work on computational challenges associated with the construction of large phylogenetic (including phylogenomic) datasets as well as evolutionary analyses on the constructed phylogenies. Much of this work is done in collaboration with Alexandros Stamatakis and the iPLANT iPTOL project. I am also interested in questions involving the rates of evolution as well as the geographic context of evolution. Although I am surrounded by animals in the Dunn lab, my organisms of interest are generally angiosperms.

Sophia Tintori - Undergrad/ tech

I am interested in the evolution of developmental mechanisms. In the Dunn lab I have been studying zooid formation in siphonophores, and producing

Orla O'Brien - Undergrad

I am an undergraduate in Marine Biology, interested in the evolution and development of marine invertebrates. I am currently looking at the role of PAR proteins in early stage development in the Starlet Sea Anemone, Nematostella.

Caitlin Feehery - Undergrad

I am interested in marine systems and the invertebrates that inhabit them. In the lab, I have worked with mollusk and cnidarian specimens from the field, and used them to create cDNA libraries that are then sequenced using various next-generation sequencing technologies. These EST data sets are then used to answer various questions about their relationships. I am also interested in using these sequencing technologies in quantitative gene expression profiles in order to answer developmental questions.