Derek Wildman

3101 Institute for Genomic Biology
Office: (217) 300-0939

Mail to: 1206 West Gregory Drive
Lab Page

Derek Wildman


Research Topics

Computational Biology, Endocrinology, Genetics, Genomics, Molecular Evolution, Regulation of Gene Expression, Reproductive Biology


B.A. 1990 University of Colorado
M.A. 1995 University of Arizona
Ph.D. 2000 New York University
Postdoc. 2000-2005 Wayne State University, Detroit, MI

Teaching Interests

Phylogenomics and the molecular evolution of pregnancy

The overall goal of our laboratory is to determine the genomic underpinnings of human phenotypes. Current research in my laboratory has two directions. In the first direction we are elucidating the evolutionary genomic history of mammalian and especially human pregnancy. This research takes advantage of comparative genomic data to test hypotheses about genes implicated in human evolution. We use this comparative approach toward understanding major obstetrical syndromes. A long-term goal is to accurately describe the evolution of parturition in mammals. Second, we are studying the evolution of mammals in general and primates in particular. Our approach is to infer well-supported phylogenetic trees in primates, and to use these trees as the foundation upon which we test hypotheses about positive Darwinian selection in human evolution. Technologies we use include genome sequencing, transcriptomics, quantitative PCR (QPCR), and epigenomics. We also develop high-throughput computational methods for genomic analysis. These techniques have allowed the laboratory to understand patterns of natural selection and expression patterns in genes involved in many human phenotypes including those of pregnancy and the brain.

Evolution of human pregnancy

We conducted a series of studies that have examined the evolution of mammalian pregnancies. This work has focused on the biological basis of pregnancy with the rationale that human pregnancy needs to be understood in a broad evolutionary context. For example, many problems in human pregnancies are related to placental dysfunction. Toward this end, we have conducted a series of studies that examine the origin of the placenta from anatomical (PNAS 2006: 103: 3203-3208 ), immunogenetic (PNAS 2009: 105:15819-15824) and genomic ( Genomics 2009; 93: 33-41). We have also examined the evolution of preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM) ( Applied & Translational Genomics 2013; 2: 70-77 ). All of these studies point to a relatively ancient origin of many important features of the human placenta. Aiming for a better understanding of the evolution of the placenta, we compared the transcriptome sequence of an African elephant term placenta to the sequence of other eutherian placentas ( GBE 2012: 4(5):713-725 ).

We have also focused on unique aspects of primate pregnancies. Toward this end we have demonstrated that the gene encoding the human progesterone receptor has recently undergone adaptive evolution ( Mol. Phyl. Evol. 2008; 47: 637-649 ). This gene plays an essential role in the process of parturition and our work points to unique features of human pregnancies. We have identified a cluster of genes uniquely found in anthropoid primates, and we demonstrated that they are expressed at the maternal fetal interface during pregnancy and function as immuno-modulating proteins that are known as galectins ( PNAS 2009; 106: 9731-9736 ). Genes in this cluster have been shown to play a role in pregnancy complications including preeclampsia, and they have also been used as diagnostic biomarkers for said complications. We examined the evolution of embryo implantation across placental mammals ( Int. J. Dev. Biol. 2014; 58: 155-161). Studies of preterm birth in nonhuman primates are lacking, but are potentially important means for detecting shared evolutionary mechanisms for both preterm and normal births. We therefore quantified the rate of preterm birth in chimpanzees ( PLOS One 2011; 6(9): e24509 ).

Additional areas of research include examination of the phylogenetic relationships among primates and other mammals, the molecular signatures of adaptation, and studies on brain evolution and psychiatric disorders.


2015 International Federation of Placenta Associations Award in Placentology.

Representative Publications

For a current list of publications please click HERE

Kuzawa CW, Chugani HT, Grossman LI, Lipovich L, Muzik O, Hof PR, Wildman DE, Sherwood CC, Leonard WR, Lange N (2014). Metabolic costs and evolutionary implications of human brain development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. 2014 Aug 25. ABSTRACT

Marmoset Genome Sequencing and Analysis Consortium; Marmoset Genome Sequencing and Analysis Consortium (2014). The common marmoset genome provides insight into primate biology and evolution. Nature Genetics 46(8):850-7. ABSTRACT

Sipahi L, Uddin M, Hou ZC, Aiello AE, Koenen KC, Galea S, Wildman DE (2014). Ancient evolutionary origins of epigenetic regulation associated with posttraumatic stress disorder. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2014 May 13;8:284. ABSTRACT

Fang X, Nevo E, Han L, Levanon EY, Zhao J, Avivi A, Larkin D, Jiang X, Feranchuk S, Zhu Y, Fishman A, Feng Y, Sher N, Xiong Z, Hankeln T, Huang Z, Gorbunova V, Zhang L, Zhao W, Wildman DE, Xiong Y, Gudkov A, Zheng Q, Rechavi G, Liu S, Bazak L, Chen J, Knisbacher BA, Lu Y, Shams I, Gajda K, Farré M, Kim J, Lewin HA, Ma J, Band M, Bicker A, Kranz A, Mattheus T, Schmidt H, Seluanov A, Azpurua J, McGowen MR, Ben Jacob E, Li K, Peng S, Zhu X, Liao X, Li S, Krogh A, Zhou X, Brodsky L, Wang J (2014). Genome-wide adaptive complexes to underground stresses in blind mole rats Spalax. Nature Communications 5:3966. ABSTRACT

Jameson Kiesling NM, Yi SV, Xu K, Gianluca Sperone F, Wildman DE (2014). The tempo and mode of New World monkey evolution and biogeography in the context of phylogenomic analysis. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.ABSTRACT

Sterner KN, Weckle A, Chugani HT, Tarca AL, Sherwood CC, Hof PR, Kuzawa CW, Boddy AM, Abbas A, Raaum RL, Grégoire L, Lipovich L, Grossman LI, Uddin M, Goodman M, Wildman DE (2012). Dynamic gene expression in the human cerebral cortex distinguishes children from adults. PLoS One 7(5).ABSTRACT

Hou ZC, Sterner KN, Romero R, Than NG, Gonzalez JM, Weckle A, Xing J, Benirschke K, Goodman M, Wildman DE (2012). Elephant transcriptome provides insights into the evolution of eutherian placentation. Genome Biology and Evolution 4:713-25.ABSTRACT

Than NG, Romero R, Goodman M, Weckle A, Xing J, Dong Z, Xu Y, Tarquini F, Szilagyi A, Gal P, Hou Z, Tarca AL, Kim CJ, Kim JS, Haidarian S, Uddin M, Bohn H, Benirschke K, Santolaya-Forgas J, Grossman LI, Erez O, Hassan SS, Zavodszky P, Papp Z, Wildman DE (2009). A primate subfamily of galectins expressed at the maternal-fetal interface that promote immune cell death. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 106: 9731-9736. ABSTRACT

Chen C, Opazo JC, Erez O, Uddin M, Santolaya-Forgas J, Goodman M, Grossman LI, Romero R & Wildman DE (2008). The human progesterone receptor shows evidence of adaptive evolution associated with its ability to act as a transcription factor. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 47: 637-649. ABSTRACT

Complete Publications List