Dr. Davide Pisani

My primary degree was awarded by the University of Parma (Italy), and my Ph.D by the University of Bristol (UK). My Previous work was in the fields of theoretical phylogenetics, bioinformatics, and at the interface between molecular evolution, palaeobiology and astrobiology (exobiology). During my PhD I investigated some mathematical properties of existing supertree methods, pinpointing weaknesses of these methods and proposed new approaches. I also led a team of palaeobiologists from the University of Bristol to produce the first genus level supertree for the Dinosauria. After obtaining my PhD. I worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the NASA Astrobiology Institute (Pennsylvania State University lead team), the Natural History Museum (London), and for the National University of Ireland Maynooth, as  a Marie Curie Intra-European Research fellow.

Currently I am lecturer of bioinformatics at NUI-Maynooth, a scientific associate of the Natural History Museum of London, and a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (MIT lead team).


Research Interests

Research interests in my group fall within the novel research discipline of “Molecular Palaeontology” and thus border both the Life and the Earth Sciences. Within this context we are mostly interested in problems relating to the origin and evolution of life, and particularly the origin and early evolution of the animal phyla. We are also interested in understanding major evolutionary transitions (e.g. Animal Terrestrialisation), the origin of the animal sensory functions, and in the study of the interplay between genomic adaptations and the underpinning environmental forces that spurred these adaptations.  To a lesser extent (mostly through collaboration with the group of Dr McInerney) we are also interested into eukaryotic evolution, the origin of the eukaryotes and problems relating to the “Tree of Life” more broadly.  To address these topics we combine paleontological and genomic data (including Next Generation Sequencing) to study the genomics of non-model organisms and the palaeoenvironmental context in which the genomes of these organisms evolved.

Current specific foci are on the study of key transitions in metazoan evolution: Cambrian Radiation and Precambrian evolution of animals and animal phylogenetics (Particularly ecdysozoan and arthropod phylogenetics, and the relationships among the non-bilaterian metazoans).

We are also interested in the development of phylogenetic/omics methods.  Current focus in theoretical phylogenetics are on the development of Bayesian and Maximum Likelihood supertrees, and on the development of methods to reduce the effect of non-phylogenetic signals in phylogenetic data sets.

Selected Publications

Erwin D.H., Laflamme M., Tweedt S.M., Sperling E.A., Pisani D. & Peterson K.J. 2011. The Cambrian conundrum: Early divergence and later ecological success in the early history of animals.  Science 334:1091-1097.

Campbell L.I., Rota-Stabelli O., Longhorn. S., Edgecombe. G., Telford, M., Rebecchi, L., Peterson. K.J. & Pisani. D. 2011  MicroRNAs and phylogenomics resolve the phylogenetic relationships of the Tardigrada and suggest the velvet worms as the sister group of the Arthropoda. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1105499108.

Rota-Stabelli O., Campbell L., Brinkmann H., Edgecombe G.D., Longhorn S.J., Peterson K.J., Pisani D., Philippe H., & Telford M. 2011 A congruent solution to the arthropod phylogeny: Phylogenomics, MicroRNAs and morphology support monophyletic Mandibulata. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B 278:298-306.

Holton T.A. & Pisani D. 2010 Deep genomic-scale analyses of the Metazoa reject Coelomata: Evidence from single- and multigene families analyzed under a supertree and supermatrix paradigm. Genome Biology and Evolution 2:310-324.

Sperling E., Peterson K.J. & Pisani D. (2009) Phylogenetic-signal dissection of nuclear housekeeping genes supports the paraphyly of sponges and the monophyly of Eumetazoa. Molecular Biology and Evolution 26:2261-2274.

Peterson K.J., Cotton J.A., Gehling J.G. & Pisani D. 2008 The timing of the metazoan radiation: Congruence between the genetic and geological fossil records. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B. 363:1435-1443.

McInerney J.O. & Pisani D. (2007) Paradigm for life. Science 318:1390-1391.

Pisani D., Cotton J.A. & McInerney J.O. (2007)  Supertrees disentangle the mosaic nature of eukaryotic genomes. Molecular Biology and Evolution 24:1752-1760.

Wilkinson M., Cotton J.A., Lapointe F.J. & Pisani, D. (2007) On some consensus properties of some supertree methods. Systematic Biology 56:330-337.

Pisani D., Mohun S.M., Harris S.R, McInerney J.O. & Wilkinson M. (2006) Molecular evidence for dim-light vision in the last common ancestor of the vertebrates. Current Biology 16(9):R318-R319.

Pisani D. (2004) Removing fast evolving sites using compatibility methods: an example from the Arthropoda.  Systematic Biology 53:983-994.

Pisani D., Yates A.M., Langer M.C. & Benton M.J. (2002) A phylogenetic supertree of the Dinosauria. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B 269:915-921.


Current Lab Members


Mr. Robert Carton (PhD Student – November 2011 – November 2015)

Ms. Karen Siu-Ting (PhD student – started November 2010)

Mr Wasiu Akanni (PhD student – started October 2010)

Mr Roberto Feuda (PhD student – started October 2009)

Mr Lahcen Campbell (PhD student –started October 2008)


Past Lab Members

Dr. Therese A. Holton

Dr. Omar Rota-Stabelli

Dr. Stuart J. Longhorn