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.


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.

Barker, M., Arrigo, N., Albert, L. P., Mickelson, P. G., & Barker, M. S. (2012). Quantitative visualization of biological data in Google Earth using R2G2, an R CRAN package. Molecular ecology resources, 12(6).

We briefly introduce R2G2, an R CRAN package to visualize spatially explicit biological data within the Google Earth interface. Our package combines a collection of basic graph-editing features, including automated placement of dots, segments, polygons, images (including graphs produced with R), along with several complex three-dimensional (3D) representations such as phylogenies, histograms and pie charts. We briefly present some example data sets and show the immediate benefits in communication gained from using the Google Earth interface to visually explore biological results. The package is distributed with detailed help pages providing examples and annotated source scripts with the hope that users will have an easy time using and further developing this package. R2G2 is distributed on http://cran.r-project.org/web/packages.

Arrigo, N., & Barker, M. S. (2012). Rarely successful polyploids and their legacy in plant genomes. Current Opinion in Plant Biology, 15(2), 140-146.

PMID: 22480430;Abstract:

Polyploidy, or whole genome duplication, is recognized as an important feature of eukaryotic genome evolution. Among eukaryotes, polyploidy has probably had the largest evolutionary impact on vascular plants where many contemporary species are of recent polyploid origin. Genomic analyses have uncovered evidence of at least one round of polyploidy in the ancestry of most plants, fueling speculation that genome duplications lead to increases in net diversity. In spite of the frequency of ancient polyploidy, recent analyses have found that recently formed polyploid species have higher extinction rates than their diploid relatives. These results suggest that despite leaving a substantial legacy in plant genomes, only rare polyploids survive over the long term and most are evolutionary dead-ends. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.