Dr. Michi Tobler
Our work is primarily focused on the evolutionary ecology of cancer. We study natural populations of animals to understand how internal (genetic disposition) and external factors (environmental stress) contribute to the emergence of cancers. Specifically, we study fish species that are exposed to high levels of hydrogen sulfide, a toxicant that interferes with mitochondrial function and generates reactive oxygen species within animal cells. Both mitochondrial dysfunction and hydrogen sulfide play known roles in oncogenesis, and some—but not all—populations of fish in hydrogen-sulfide-rich habitats indeed exhibit high rates of melanoma. Contrasting responses between populations with and without melanoma allow us to disentangle how exposure to environmental stress and population-specific genetic background interact to shape cancer outcomes in nature.