Michael S Barker
Associate Professor
Associate Professor, BIO5 Institute
Primary Department
Department Affiliations
(520) 621-2213
Research Interest
Michael Barker is an evolutionary biologist studying the origins of biological diversity, particularly how abrupt genomic changes such as polyploidy, chromosomal change, and hybridization have contributed to the evolution of plant diversity. Biologists have long been fascinated by these processes because they create unique opportunities for the evolution of ecological and phenotypic novelty with the potential for relatively rapid speciation. Although assessing the importance of these abrupt changes has historically been a difficult task, advances in genomics and bioinformatics have created new opportunities for addressing these longstanding questions. By integrating new computational and evolutionary genomic tools with traditional approaches such as molecular evolution, phylogenetics, mathematical modeling, and experimental work Barker's lab currently studies 1.) the contributions of recent and ancient polyploidy to eukaryotic diversity; 2.) the evolution of chromosome number and genome organization; and 3.) the impact of hybridization on speciation and novelty.


Wood, T. E., Takebayashi, N., Barker, M. S., Mayrose, I., Greenspoon, P. B., & Rieseberg, L. H. (2009). The frequency of polyploid speciation in vascular plants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(33), 13875-13879.

PMID: 19667210;PMCID: PMC2728988;Abstract:

Since its discovery in 1907, polyploidy has been recognized as an important phenomenon in vascular plants, and several lines of evidence indicate that most, if not all, plant species ultimately have a polyploid ancestry. However, previous estimates of the frequency of polyploid speciation suggest that the formation and establishment of neopolyploid species is rare. By combining information from the botanical community's vast cytogenetic and phylogenetic databases, we establish that 15% of angiosperm and 31% of fern speciation events are accompanied by ploidy increase. These frequency estimates are higher by a factor of four than earlier estimates and lead to a standing incidence of polyploid species within genera of 35% (n = 1,506). Despite this high incidence, we find no direct evidence that polyploid lines, once established, enjoy greater net species diversification. Thus, the widespread occurrence of polyploid taxa appears to result from the substantial contribution of polyploidy to cladogenesis, but not from subsequent increases in diversification rates of polyploid lines.

Banks, J. A., Nishiyama, T., Hasebe, M., Bowman, J. L., Gribskov, M., DePamphilis, C., Albert, V. A., Aono, N., Aoyama, T., Ambrose, B. A., Ashton, N. W., Axtell, M. J., Barker, E., Barker, M. S., Bennetzen, J. L., Bonawitz, N. D., Chapple, C., Cheng, C., Gustavo, L., , Dacre, M., et al. (2011). The Selaginella genome identifies genetic changes associated with the evolution of vascular plants. Science, 332(6032), 960-963.
BIO5 Collaborators
Michael S Barker, Eric H Lyons

PMID: 21551031;PMCID: PMC3166216;Abstract:

Vascular plants appeared ∼410 million years ago, then diverged into several lineages of which only two survive: the euphyllophytes (ferns and seed plants) and the lycophytes. We report here the genome sequence of the lycophyte Selaginella moellendorffii (Selaginella), the first nonseed vascular plant genome reported. By comparing gene content in evolutionarily diverse taxa, we found that the transition from a gametophyte- to a sporophyte-dominated life cycle required far fewer new genes than the transition from a nonseed vascular to a flowering plant, whereas secondary metabolic genes expanded extensively and in parallel in the lycophyte and angiosperm lineages. Selaginella differs in posttranscriptional gene regulation, including small RNA regulation of repetitive elements, an absence of the trans-acting small interfering RNA pathway, and extensive RNA editing of organellar genes.

Shaw, S. W., Sprunt, S. V., & Barker, M. S. (2008). Contribution to the Pteridophyte flora of Puerto Rico. American Fern Journal, 98(2), 107-111.
Mayrose, I., Barker, M. S., & Otto, S. P. (2010). Probabilistic models of chromosome number evolution and the inference of polyploidy. Systematic Biology, 59(2), 132-144.

PMID: 20525626;Abstract:

Polyploidy, the genome wide duplication of chromosome number, is a key feature in eukaryote evolution. Polyploidy exists in diverse groups including animals, fungi, and invertebrates but is especially prevalent in plants with most, if not all, plant species having descended from a polyploidization event. Polyploids often differ markedly from their diploid progenitors in morphological, physiological, and life history characteristics as well as rates of adaptation. The altered characteristics displayed by polyploids may contribute to their success in novel ecological habitats. Clearly, a better understanding of the processes underlying changes in the number of chromosomes within genomes is a key goal in our understanding of speciation and adaptation for a wide range of families and genera. Despite the fundamental role of chromosome number change in eukaryotic evolution, probabilistic models describing the evolution of chromosome number along a phylogeny have not yet been formulated. We present a series of likelihood models, each representing a different hypothesis regarding the evolution of chromosome number along a given phylogeny. These models allow us to reconstruct ancestral chromosome numbers and to estimate the expected number of polyploidization events and single chromosome changes (dysploidy) that occurred along a phylogeny. We test, using simulations, the accuracy of this approach and its dependence on the number of taxa and tree length. We then demonstrate the application of the method for the study of chromosome number evolution in 4 plant genera: Aristolochia, Carex, Passiflora, and Helianthus. Considering the depth of the available cytological and phylogenetic data, formal models of chromosome number evolution are expected to advance significantly our understanding of the importance of polyploidy and dysploidy across different taxonomic groups.

Bowers, J. E., Nambeesan, S., Corbi, J., Barker, M. S., Rieseberg, L. H., Knapp, S. J., & Burke, J. M. (2012). Development of an Ultra-Dense Genetic Map of the Sunflower Genome Based on Single-Feature Polymorphisms. PLoS ONE, 7(12).

PMID: 23284684;PMCID: PMC3526535;Abstract:

The development of ultra-dense genetic maps has the potential to facilitate detailed comparative genomic analyses and whole genome sequence assemblies. Here we describe the use of a custom Affymetrix GeneChip containing nearly 2.4 million features (25 bp sequences) targeting 86,023 unigenes from sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) and related species to test for single-feature polymorphisms (SFPs) in a recombinant inbred line (RIL) mapping population derived from a cross between confectionery and oilseed sunflower lines (RHA280×RHA801). We then employed an existing genetic map derived from this same population to rigorously filter out low quality data and place 67,486 features corresponding to 22,481 unigenes on the sunflower genetic map. The resulting map contains a substantial fraction of all sunflower genes and will thus facilitate a number of downstream applications, including genome assembly and the identification of candidate genes underlying QTL or traits of interest. © 2012 Bowers et al.