My research focuses on the relationships between the methods and conceptual frameworks of biologists (i.e., how methods influence conceptual frameworks and vice versa). My dissertation work focuses mostly on cancer translational research. I argue that the current frameworks (namely the molecular biomarker and evolutionary ecological frameworks) do not properly capture the complex causal structures of cancer and so will not translate into effective treatments. This is especially true for metastatic cancers (cancers that spread throughout the body). Thus, I developed two alternative frameworks for how we can understand the causal relationships in the etiology of cancer that incorporate its evolutionary, ecological, and developmental aspects. One draws from evolutionary developmental biology to overcome the proximate-ultimate distinction. In that argument I make use of the concepts of modularity and evolvability to show how we could restructure research programs. The other reconceptualizes metastatic cancers as an infectious disease.
I have multiple other projects that focus on the practices used in biology. One project that focuses on how microbial experimental evolution works. Does it tell us anything about the world? If so, how? A key component to microbial experimental evolution is its simplicity, but the popular philosophical view of models is to judge progress by a model's ability to capture "real world complexity". This project reconciles these views by arguing that models with different goals (e.g., making claims about necessity vs claims about sufficiency) will have different qualities. I also look at the differences in modeling processes (the case in experimental evolution) and modeling phenomena or physical entities. Ultimately this helps us understand the applicability of experimental evolution, specifically in solving some of the world's greatest problems (climate change, cancer, etc).
As part of the "From Biological Practices to Scientific Metaphysics" project, I worked with Alan Love looking at the uses of protocols in stem cell research to uncover how researchers think about potentiality and other concepts in biology.
In the lab, I use experimental evolution methods to investigate the causes and consequences of modularity in the evolution of stress tolerance. Specifically, I am looking at mitochondrial defection in unicellular and multicellular yeast as a way to understand the interactions and relationships between levels of organization.