Evolutionary and ecological biologist joins team

An evolutionary biologist whose work examines the ecological conditions which produce the best wines has joined the University of Lincoln, UK.

Dr Matthew Goddard, who has spent his academic career investigating the underlying biological rules and forces that apply to all organisms, has become part of the Evolution and Ecology research group in Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences.

Having studied marine biology and applied zoology as an undergraduate, Dr Goddard’s fascination with patterns and processes in the natural world formed during his PhD and post-doctoral research.

His research looks at patterns in evolutionary biology, particularly the evolution and maintenance of sexual reproduction. His focus is the biology of microbes, particularly yeast since its cellular structure and DNA are organised in the same way as all higher organisms and a huge amount is known about its molecular biology.

Dr Goddard said: “I find the workings of the natural world wonderfully curious and am constantly amazed by the adaptations that organisms display. I find studying biology from the population perspective to be very informative since one can simultaneously consider both the ecological and evolutionary forces which shape a population’s genetic pool.

“Sex is a much more complicated way to reproduce than a-sexual organisms. This is a big problem in evolutionary biology, so the big question is why this much more complicated method of reproduction has evolved. There are hardly any experiments as there are only a few organisms that can do both, including fungi such as yeast. Using yeast, as it has both sexual and a-sexual modes of reproduction, the team I was working with showed compelling evidence that sex does confer greater rates of adaptation, which is why this method of reproduction permeates life.”

Following his post-doctoral research, Dr Goddard moved to The University of Auckland where he has spent many years working with the New Zealand wine industry. Here he investigated the biological diversity of microbes associated with vineyards and the production of wine.

Dr Goddard said: “Our work evaluated the microbial communities as they affect the way vines grow and therefore the quality of the fruit. Our main aim was to understand if these microbes differ in space and time. It all adds to the story behind the wine, which is important as the companies want to make their product stand out in some way.”

While at Lincoln, Dr Goddard will retain a position as Associate Professor at The University of Auckland and is leading a seven-year research project which will examine the effects of synthetic pesticides on the environment, focussing on vineyards and the way crops are produced.

Dr Goddard said: “There is no scientific evidence that organic farming is better for wine production, so in this project we will be objectively evaluating the effects of pesticides on the eco-system. In another strand of research, I will be looking at how mutualisms evolve – mutualism is the way two organisms of different species exist in a relationship in which each individual benefits. We are currently unaware of any general rule of how these beneficial associations evolved in the first place so I aim to understand – using orchids and moths – how they have begun to co-evolve. I believe the University of Lincoln is a great place to facilitate my research interests and it’s fantastic to be a part of this vibrant and dynamic environment.”

Dr Goddard will also be focussing on experimental ecology and evolution to uncover patterns operating in populations.