Karen Sears

Professor and Department Chair

office:  BOX 951606 4113 LSB

Recent Courses


BS, Honors, Zoology, University of Wisconsin at Madison 1998
BS, Honors, Anthropology, University of Wisconsin at Madison 1998
PhD, Evolutionary Biology, University of Chicago 2003

Research Interests

Organismal form is the product of a complex suite of interacting developmental processes. Variation in these processes allows mammals to adapt to changing environments, but also generates congenital malformations in humans. Developmental variation therefore presents a unifying concept for evolutionary biology and biomedicine, whose understanding is critical to the success of both fields. My primary research goals are to determine how developmental variation interacts with environmental factors within a species to produce congenital malformations in humans, and among species to generate new evolutionary adaptations in mammals. To pursue these goals, I characterize developmental variation across biological scales, and interpret how this variation drives evolution and malformations in form. I incorporate data from fields from paleontology to mathematics to genomics to developmental biology. I also study multiple model and non-model mammals (e.g., mouse, bat, cat, deer, horse, pig, opossum). I use this approach to investigate three major topics: mammalian limb evolution and development, major evolutionary transformations during mammalian evolution, and mammalian sensory system evolution.

Selected Publications