The University of Massachusetts Amherst

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R. Craig Albertson

Assistant Professor

Our research lies at the intersection of genes, development and evolution. For reasons of experimental utility and evolutionary richness, our experimental model is the craniofacial skeleton (and other neural crest derived structures) in bony fishes. Specifically, we are interested in integrating studies in laboratory models (e.g., zebrafish) and natural populations (e.g., cichlid fishes) to address two general research questions: What are the factors that contribute to craniofacial development? And what are the factors that underlie variation in craniofacial shape? Methods of study include quantitative trait loci (QTL) mapping, population genomics, genome-wide transcription profiling, experimental embryology, and quantitative shape analysis (geometric morphometrics).

Current Research
Evolutionary mutant models to study development, disease and evolution There is a fine line between disease and adaptation,and in many instances the distinction between “clinical” and “adaptive” variation is only a matter of lineage. Certain Antarctic icefish species have osteopenia, blind cavefish exhibit retinal degeneration, and many squamate reptiles undergo heterotopic ossification. In each of these cases, the phenotype is adaptive, but mimics a maladaptive human condition. These “evolutionary mutant models” represent an innovative, but as yet underutilized resource with which to dissect the genetic factors that underlie the development of complex morphologies, and affect human health and diseases. We focus primarily on how phenotypic variation in bony fishes models certain human conditions characterized by craniofacial and skeletal defects.

The genetic determinants of complex patterns of shape variation - While traditional mutagenesis screens have provided critical insights into how the craniofacial skeleton is patterned comparatively little is known about how this structure is shaped over extended periods of ontogeny. We combine model and non-model organisms, as well as traditional embryology with geometric morphometrics to address this important gap in of knowledge.

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Academic Background

  • PhD University of New Hampshire
  • Postdoctoral Training: The Forsyth Institute and Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Boston, MA
Hu Y, Albertson RC (2014) Hedgehog signaling mediates adaptive variation in a dynamic functional system in the cichlid skull. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 111(23):8530-8534.
Parsons KJ, Taylor AT, Powder KE, and Albertson RC (2014) Wnt signalling underlies the evolution of new phenotypes and craniofacial variability in Lake Malawi cichlids. Nat Commun. doi: 10.1038/ncomms4629.
Brennan PLR, Irschick DJ, Johnson NA, and Albertson RC (2014) Oddball science: Why funding studies of unusual evolutionary phenomena is critical. BioScience. doi: 10.1093/biosci/bit039.
Cooper WJ, Wirgau RM, Sweet EM, and Albertson RC (2013) Deficiency of zebrafish fgf20a results in aberrant skull remodeling that mimics both human cranial disease and evolutionarily important fish skull morphologies. Evol Dev. 15(6): 426-441.
Albertson RC, Yan Y-L, Titus TA, Pisano E, Vacchi M, Yelick PC, Detrich WH, and Postlethwait JH. (2010) Molecular pedomorphism underlies craniofacial skeletal evolution in Antarctic notothenioid fishes. BMC Evol Biol. 10:4.
Contact Info

Department of Biology
221 Morrill Science Center
North Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA 01003

(413) 545-2902