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.

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.

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 seed funding from the IGB to investigate the "Regulatory innovations that drive mammalian limb development and evolution" in collaboration with Jian Ma and Saurabh Sinha.

December 2013 - Dr. Sears has been named the interim-Vice President for the newly formed international Society of Evolutionary Developmental Biology.

Dr. Sears is helping to organize and will help moderate an Evolutionary Developmental Biology Community Workshop that will be held at NESCENT on Dec 11 - 13.

October 2013 - Dr. Sears will be an Associate Editor for Evolution starting in January 2014.

August 2013 - The Sears Lab welcomes new graduate students Katie Hughes and Daniel Sorensen, who started in the lab in August 2013.

Dr. Sears has been invited to chair a session of the Midwest Society of Developmental Biology meeting.

The Sears Lab congratulates lab member Daniel Urban, who received an NSF GRF.

February 2013 - Dr. Sears has been invited to present in a symposium on "Bat Evolution and Development" to be held at ICBR in August 2013 in Costa Rica.

Dr. Sears is co-organizing a symposium on Vertebrate Limb Development, and is speaking in that and in a second symposium on "Quantifying evolutionary development using non-model organisms: Integrating metrical frameworks, gene expression, and morphology" that will be held at ICVM in Barcelona in July 2013.

January 2013 - Dr. Sears has again been named to the "List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by their Students."

November 2012 - Sears Lab has received a major NSF grant entitled "Genetic determinants of mammalian limb diversity."

Sears Lab research is featured in the "Extreme Mammals" museum exhibit that is touring the country. The exhibit has been at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, is currently at the Field Museum in Chicago, and will also visit many other museums.