Mammalian Evolutionary Developmental Biology

The evolution of mammalian anatomy has played an integral role in mammalian diversification.

The Sears Lab seeks to understand how genetic and developmental mechanisms have influenced the morphological diversification of mammalian anatomy, and thereby the evolution of mammals. Specifically, we seek to understand how development and genetics have been modified to generate new morphologies, and the role that development and genetics play in influencing why certain morphologies evolve (sometimes repeatedly) instead of others.

To pursue this goal, we combine traditional embryological and paleontological approaches with modern developmental and genetic techniques to gather data from fossil and living mammals. Using these techniques we expand upon what is known in model organisms (e.g., mouse) into a comparative approach incorporating non-model organisms (e.g., opossums, bats, horses, pigs). While the lab's primary focus has been on the limb, we also have ongoing project on craniofacial, sensory, and lung development. All of our research is highly integrative, and most is highly quantitative.


Sears Lab

465 Morrill Hall

505 South Goodwin Avenue

Urbana, IL 61801

Ph: 217-244-7855

Email: ksears "at"


The Sears Lab is recruiting undergraduate and graduate students, and postdoctoral research fellows with interests in evolutionary developmental biology. For more information about positions in the lab, please click on the link on the left of the page.

February 2015 - Dr. Sears has been invited to speak at the annual Society of Developmental Biology Meeting to be held in July 2015.

January 2015 - Registration for the first meeting of the Pan-American Society for Evolutionary Developmental Biology to be held at Berkeley in August 2015 is now open!

Dr. Sears has been named a Helen Corley Petit Scholar for 2015-2016, an honor given annually to exceptionally successful faculty members in the University of Illinois College of LAS based on their work as scholars and teachers.

Dr. Sears has again been named to the "List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by their Students."

October 2014 - Dr. Sears co-chaired the Institute for Genomic Biology's Genome Day at the Orpheum Children's Museum, and Sears Lab members presented research. 300+ people attended the free event, which was staffed by SACNAS translators.

Dr. Sears attended the national SACNAS meeting in LA where she presented lab research and chaired a mentorship session.

Dr. Sears is a featured alumna of University of Chicago's Division of Biological Sciences.

June 2014 - The lab has received a "Dimensions of Biodiversity" grant from NSF that will fund 5 years of research on "Discovering genomic and developmental mechanisms that underlie sensory innovations critical to adaptive diversification."

Dr. Sears' manuscript on the "Patterning and post-patterning modes of evolutionary digit loss in mammals" has been published in Nature, along with a brief write-up. The article has also been selected for F1000 prime.

Dr. Sears has been named President Elect for the newly formed Pan American Society of Evolutionary Developmental Biology.

May 2014 - The lab has received a National Geographic Research Grant to fund bat fieldwork in Central America and Africa.

Dr. Sears has become an Affiliate of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Illinois.

Dr. Sears has been invited to present in a bioinformatics symposium at the 2014 European Society for Evolutionary Developmental Biology Meeting in Vienna.

Dr. Sears has again been named to the "List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by their Students."

April 2014 - Sears Lab research is featured in the second episode of "Your Inner Fish" on PBS. The segment can be found in Episode 2 at ~42:00.

February 2014 - The Sears Lab congratulates lab member Daniel Urban, who received an NSF DDIG.

January 2014 - Dr. Sears participated in the TCA press conference to promote "Your Inner Fish" on PBS. The documentary will air in April on PBS, and the following is a link to the trailer and website, and this is a link to photos from the event.

The Sears Lab has been awarded 100k in funding from the IGB to investigate the "Regulatory innovations that drive mammalian limb development and evolution" in collaboration with Jian Ma and Saurabh Sinha.