Graduate Program: M.S. Thesis
Alex Aitken is a Master candidate pursuing a Masters degree in the Biological Sciences
at the University of Memphis in the lab of Dr. Duane McKenna. He received his B.S.
at the University of Memphis in 2011 where he had the privilege of doing undergraduate
research (i.e. DNA extraction, PCR, DNA sequencing and editing of sequence data) on
a number of incredible groups of taxa (i.e. Chrysomelidae- leaf and tortoise beetles
with ~35,000 species; Bostrichidae-auger beetles with ~700 species). His experiences
as an undergraduate researcher propelled him to pursue an advanced degree. His research
interests have become increasingly fascinated in understanding the diversity of life
and evolution with a focus primarily on beetles. With insects making up over 20% of
all living things on Earth, insects tend to be a natural outlet for fueling his passion for
understanding the unknown. His other research interest includes being able to get
outdoors and enjoy the natural environment, which by the nature of collecting insects
also provides this opportunity.
He is currently in the process of using a potentially revolutionary technique that
could bridge the gap between the traditional DNA capture methods (Sanger's method)
and next generation sequencing of entire genomes. This process has been entitled anchored
enrichment or phylogenomics (Lemmon et al. 2012). It is with this approach that he and outside collaborators are looking to provide
strong nodal support for a phylogenetic tree for the superfamily of weevils Curculionoidea
(>61,800 described species in ~5,800 genera) with a focus on the major subfamilies
within the family Curculionidae (>51,000 extant species in ~4,600 genera).