Tom Cavalier-Smith

Professor of Evolutionary Biology (Emeritus)


Research Interests

Cell and genome evolution; large scale phylogeny and the tree of life; understanding major evolutionary transitions, e.g. origins of eukaryotes, animals, plants. Molecular evolution, cell biology, ultrastructure, ecology, and classification of Protozoa. I especially like synthesizing very diverse information into simple explanations and attacking wrong ideas. My laboratory focuses on the evolution, ecology, and biogeography of amoeboid and flagellate free-living Protozoa (especially the phyla Cercozoa, Apusozoa, Amoebozoa, Choanozoa - the ancestors of animals - and Heliozoa) using cell culturing, DNA sequencing (genes and genomes), phylogenetic analysis, bioinformatics, and light and electron microscopy. But my theoretical interests are much wider, ranging from the origin of cells, and their diversification to make the major bacterial and eukaryotic groups, to protein-targeting mechanisms in secondary symbiogenesis (the permanent enslavement of eukaryotic cells to generate the most complex chimaeric cells in nature, e.g. chromalveolates, which include ciliates, diatoms and brown algae). Topics currently actively researched include: establishing whether free-living non-ciliate protozoa are sexual or clonal; testing the probably oversimplified idea that protozoa disperse so rapidly that they are all cosmopolitan; understanding the origin of cilia and their functional differentiation in Cercozoa; establishing the deepest evolutionary relationships within bikont eukaryotes (i.e. Plantae, Chromista and most Protozoa).

Research Group page

Additional Information

Awarded the International Prize for Biology 2004 and the Linnean Medal for Zoology 2007. President of the British Society for Protist Biology. On the Council of the International Congress of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology and the advisory committee of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research’s Programme on Integrated Microbial Biodiversity




Selected Publications

  • Stechmann, A. & Cavalier-Smith, T. (2002). Rooting the eukaryote tree by using a derived gene fusion. Science 297, 89-91.
  • Richards, T. & Cavalier-Smith T. (2005). Myosin domain evolution and the primary divergence of eukaryotes. Nature 436, 1113-1118
  • Cavalier-Smith, T. (2006). Cell evolution and earth history: stasis and revolution. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond. B. 361, 969-1006
  • Cavalier-Smith, T. (2006). Rooting the tree of life by transition analysis. Biol. Direct 1: 19.
  • Karpov, S. A., Bass, D., Mylnikov, A. P. & Cavalier-Smith, T. (2006) Molecular phylogeny of Cercomonadidae and kinetid patterns of Cercomonas and Eocercomonas gen. nov. (Cercomonadida, Cercozoa). Protist 157, 125-158.