Dr Steven Le Comber
Location: Room 5.13, Fogg building
Phone: +44 (0)20 7882 3046
My work covers a wide range of subjects within evolutionary biology, including studies of spatial patterns in biology, notably in epidemiology and invasive species biology, and mathematical and computer models of molecular evolution.
Much of my current work focusses on geographic profiling, a statistical technique originally developed in criminology to prioritise large lists of suspects in cases of serial crime. Working with the technique’s inventor, Prof Kim Rossmo (Texas State), I have pioneered the introduction of geographic profiling to biology, in areas such as animal foraging (where it can be used to find animal nests or roosts using the locations of foraging sites as input), epidemiology (identifying disease sources from the addresses of infected individuals) and invasive species biology (using current locations to identify source populations). Work in my group – principally by Mark Stevenson and Bob Verity – has placed the model within a Bayesian framework, using a Dirichlet Process Mixture model that allows the technique to deal rigorously with data involving multiple sources, even when the true number of sources is unknown. Current areas of interest include epidemiology (with PhD student Catherine Smith and UCL’s Andrew Hayward and Hannah Fry) and conservation biology (with PhD student Sally Faulkner and the Institute of Zoology’s Trent Garner). In other work in spatial mathematics I have shown how fractal dimension can be used to quantify burrow architecture in fossorial mammals, working with Chris Faulkes (QMUL) and Nigel Bennett (University of Pretoria).
My research on molecular evolution is principally in the field of genetic code evolution and polyploidy. In a paper in BMC Evolutionary Biology, I pointed out for the first time an apparently deleterious feature of the universal genetic code: the occurrence of multiple stop codons. The paper proposed and found evidence for a compensatory benefit for this otherwise puzzling feature of the code. In another paper, in New Phytologist, I used computer simulations to study the evolution of newly formed autopolyploids. I showed that the evolution of pairing genes is not essential for the establishment of disomic inheritance, since genetic drift alone is sufficient to explain the transition from polysomic to disomic inheritance.
Previously, I have studied alternative male mating tactics in the three-spined stickleback, patterns of morphological and molecular evolution in European vespertilionid bats (with Dr David Polly of Indiana University) and mate choice in the greater horseshoe bat (with Steve Rossiter and Chris Faulkes (both QMUL)).