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Kathy Darragh with a Postman butterfly, a member of the Heliconius genus.
Photo credit: Tom Almeroth-Williams

I am an evolutionary biologist and postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis. My research focuses on chemical ecology, genetics, molecular biology, and behaviour. I am interested in how biosynthetic pathways and enzymes evolve to produce the chemical diversity that we see in nature.

During my PhD at the University of Cambridge I studied Heliconius butterflies to understand the evolution of their chemical profiles. I asked questions regarding the importance of chemical signalling for mate choice, the effect of diet on chemical profile, the variation within and between species across Latin America, and the genetic basis for pheromone production. To address these topics I used an array of techniques including behavioural studies, genetic mapping, chemical analyses, and in vitro enzymatic assays.

I am currently working on the chemical ecology of orchid bees, a fascinating group in which males collect chemical compounds from the environment to use as a perfume. I am investigating whether the collection of chemical compounds has led to the evolution of the detoxification machinery of Euglossa dilemma. I am also more generally interested in their chemical ecology and understanding the causes and implications of variation in perfumes within and between species.