Harmit S. Malik
Appointments and Affiliations
Our genomes are a tenuous conglomerate of different genetic entities, each trying to maximize their own evolutionary success, often at great cost to their genomic neighbors. As expected, this conflict can create problems for the host organism. My lab is interested in evolutionary studies of genetic conflict to gain insight into their mechanisms and consequences.We focus on conflicts that are both extrinsic (between different genetic entities) and intrinsic (between components of the same genome).
As an example of intrinsic conflicts, we study the rapid evolution of centromeres and centromeric proteins. Centromeres are crucial for the faithful segregation of genetic information in eukaryotes, but they remain the most mysterious part of our genomes. In both animal and plant meiosis, in the process of forming an egg, of four meiotic products, only one becomes the egg, while the other three are evolutionary dead-ends. There is intense competition between various chromosomes, likely through their centromeres for success into the egg. Our hypothesis is that this results in the rapid gain of centromeric satellites often with deleterious consequences to the host. For instance, in humans, Robertsonian fusions (chromosomes fused at their centromeres) are transmitted more frequently in women, but male carriers of these fusions are partially to completely sterile. We study the rapid evolution of centromeric components to gain a better understanding of aneuploidy events (commonly observed in cancer cells) and to answer one of the long-standing questions in biology: how do two species evolve from one?
Examples of extrinsic conflicts include innate immunity genes in primates that are directly implicated in host-pathogen interactions. In collaboration with the Emerman and Geballe labs, we are characterizing the driving forces and functional consequences of primate antiviral genes that act against retroviruses and large double-stranded DNA viruses.
Prospective graduate students are encouraged to apply to the MCB program at the University of Washington. Graduate students from the Genome Sciences Department at the University of Washington are also eligible to join my lab.
Identification of novel domains by remote homology searches
Impact of transposable elements on eukaryotic genomes and gene repertoires
Centromere complexity and its evolutionary origins
Honors and Awards
- Harold E. and Leila Y. Mathers Foundation: Research Grant, 2012 to 2015
- National Science Foundation (NSF): NSF (CAREER) award, 2008 to 2013
- National Institutes of Health (NIAID) R21, 2012 to 2014
- National Institutes of Health (NIGMS) R01, 2005 to 2014
- Lupus Research Institute Pilot Grant, 2012 to 2015
- Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 2009 to 2015