Dr. Rama Singh

What is the overall goal of your research program?

Elucidating processes of speciation is a fundamental problem in evolutionary biology and it is intricately linked to understanding biological diversity. Sexual selection is a powerful force driving speciation and Charles Darwin dedicated an entire volume on “Sexual Selection and the Decent of Man”. Sexual selection is a form selection that is exclusively related to sex and reproduction. Darwin conceived two major mechanisms by which sexual selection operates – male-male competition for access to females, and, female choice of males. How sex and reproduction influence speciation is an expanding area of research in evolutionary biology. For over a century Drosophila has been an important model organism for studying speciation.  The key to understanding speciation is to understand the evolutionary changes that occur in sex and reproduction related traits (behavior, morphology, genes) because all changes, occurring  directly or indirectly, have their effects through affecting sex and reproduction. This has been the theme of our research for over three decades, using Drosophila as a model. Two general trends have emerged from this line of research both of which relate to the inequality in the rate and the amount of variation observed between males and females: 1) the complexity, diversity and variation of reproductive characters is remarkably higher in males than in females, and 2) male sex and reproduction related (SRR) traits evolve faster than female traits. Some remarkable examples include the evolution of sperms that are a dozen times longer than the male’s body, production of male-specific proteins that are transferred into the female reproductive tract which alter female’s physiology by inducing ovulation and egg-laying, evolution of new male-specific genes, and a generally higher rate of evolution of male expressed proteins and genes. Explaining these trends has traditionally been dominated by Darwin’s originally proposed mechanisms – male-male competition and female choice- which are presented in the form of sexual conflict in the reproductive interests of males and females. These theories cannot explain the stark dichotomy in the rates and patterns of evolution between male and female reproductive traits. Our research is focussed on uncovering genomic signatures of male driven sexual selection and their role in the evolution of sexual dimorphism and speciation.  This research has imlications to human evolution, in particular to the evolution of male sex drive and the origin of menopause.

What would be one of your biggest research highlights?

In 2005 Singh lab was recognized (Singh elected AAAS Fellow) for showing rapid evolution of sex and reproduction related genes, including their role in speciation.
In 2013 we co-authored a paper (Morton, Stone and Singh, 2013.  BMC: Computational Biology) on the origin of menopause that caught the attention of the media worldwide; it was the top health news on the Google in the week after it appeared.

How can we find out more information about the research you do?

From the internet, of course, but I am also approachable by e-mail.

What are your main interests outside of research?

Organizing Annual Gandhi Lecture at McMaster (since 1996) and Gandhi Peace Festival in Hamilton (since 1993), promoting women’s self-empowerment through development work in India (since 2002), and recently launching a campaign to stop violence against women. We are always looking for volunteers.