Joanna Masel


Office Location: LSS 327A
Lab Location: LSS 304


Positions and Education: 

  • Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, 2016-present
  • Associate Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, 2010-2016
  • Assistant Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, 2004-2010
  • Postdoctoral Researcher, Biological Sciences, Stanford University 2000-2003
  • D. Phil. Zoology, Oxford University 2001
  • B.Sc. (Hons) University of Melbourne 1996

Honors and Awards: 

  • Fellow, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, 2012-13
  • Outstanding Faculty Mentor, Honorable Mention, University of Arizona Undergraduate Biology Research Program, 2011
  • Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences, 2007
  • Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, 2007
  • Merton College Prize Scholarship, 1999
  • Rhodes Scholarship, 1997
  • International Mathematical Olympiad: Bronze Medal, 1991

Editorial Work: 

  • Associate Editor, Genetics 
  • Associate Editor, Evolution 
  • Editor, Philosophy, Theory & Practice in Biology 

Research Interests: 

I study foundational questions in evolutionary theory, by building toy models to incorporate mechanistic phenomena within population genetic models, and by applying model insights to bioinformatic data. Two of my central research interests are i) the robustness and evolvability of biological systems, and ii) how best to describe fitness in a density-dependent and frequency-dependent world. Specific systems include prions, evolutionary capacitance, the evolution of error rates, and the birth of protein-coding sequences from non-coding DNA. I am especially interested in the error-prone nature of molecular (eg transcription, translation, folding) and other developmental processes. Errors in the present can mimic future mutations, and so when selection against the consequences of present errors is strong, this changes the distribution of possible mutations in ways that can have profound consequences. I am also interested in the tension between relative and absolute contests.

Selected Publications: 

  1. Bertram J, Foy SG, Neme R, Masel J. (2017) Density-dependent selection in evolutionary genetics: a lottery model of Grime’s triangle, bioRxiv  
  2. Wilson BA, Masel J. (2017) Young genes are highly disordered as predicted by the preadaptation hypothesis of de novo gene birth, Nature Ecology & Evolution, in press. 
  3. Masel J, Humphrey PT, Blackburn B, Levine JA. (2015) Evidence-based medicine as a tool for undergraduate probability and statistics education, CBE - Life Sciences Education, 14:1-10. 
  4. Rajon E, Masel J. (2011) Evolution of molecular error rates and the consequences for evolvability, PNAS, 108: 1082-1087. 
  5. Masel J, Trotter MV. (2010) Robustness and evolvability. Trends in Genetics 26:406-14.