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Antonis Rokas

Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair in Biological Sciences

Expert on patterns of evolution, with a focus on the earliest forms of life.


Research in Rokas' lab focuses on the study of the DNA record to gain insight into the patterns and processes of evolution. Through a combination of computational and experimental approaches, his current research aims to understand the evolution of human pregnancy, the molecular foundations of the fungal lifestyle, and the reconstruction of the tree of life. His discoveries have been reported in the world’s premier journals, receiving thousands of citations, and been recognized by many awards, including an endowed chair (2013), a Chancellor’s Award for Research (2011), an NSF CAREER award (2009) and a Searle Scholarship (2008). He serves as an Associate Editor in several journals including Evolution, Medicine & Public Health, PLoS ONE, BMC Microbiology, and G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics. Rokas received his undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Crete, Greece and his PhD from Edinburgh University in Scotland. Prior to joining Vanderbilt in the summer of 2007, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a research scientist at the Broad Institute.

Media Appearances

  • This Fungus Mutates. That’s Good News if You Like Cheese.

    “You could imagine going down different flavor paths,” said Antonis Rokas, a professor of evolutionary biology at Vanderbilt University and a co-author of the study. “You could start enhancing or diminishing the mold flavor of the cheese by directing the evolutionary process.”

    October 15th, 2019

  • A Battle Is Raging in the Tree of Life

    “By comparing modern animals, we’re trying to infer what the ancestor was like,” said Antonis Rokas, an evolutionary biologist at Vanderbilt University. “How complex was it? What kind of genes did it have, and what kinds of traits?”

    August 2nd, 2019

  • I’m an evolutionary biologist – here’s why this ancient fungal fossil discovery is so revealing

    Biologists don’t call them “the hidden kingdom” for nothing. With an estimated 5 million species, only a mere 100,000 fungi are known to scientists. This kingdom, which includes molds, yeasts, rusts and mushrooms, receives far less attention than plants or animals. This is particularly true for fossils of fungi, most of which are discovered while hunting for more charismatic, at least to the eyes of some, plant fossils.

    May 22nd, 2019

  • An outlaw yeast thrives with genetic chaos – and could provide clues for understanding cancer growth

    “I fought the law,” the 1977 song popularized by the English punk-rock band The Clash, features catchy lyrics about the dire consequences of life as an outlaw. In human affairs, the set of rules codified in our laws helps protect individuals and maintain order in our societies. Without rules, order is lost and chaos reigns. Life’s organisms have evolved their own set of checks and balances that help fight off chaos and ensure their survival and success.

    May 21st, 2019

  • What did the ancestor of all animals look like?

    The ancestor of all animals living today may have lived as long as 700 million years ago. But what did it look like? Many scientists think it would have been a single-celled organism similar to modern day microscopic organisms called ‘choanoflagellates’. Antonis Rokas, from Vanderbilt University in the United States, describes their features and explains why something like them may well have been the single-celled precursor of multi-celled animals.

    November 2nd, 2018

  • This article is more than 1 year old Evolution row ends as scientists declare sponges to be sister of all other animals

    Antonis Rokas, professor of biological sciences and biomedical informatics at Vanderbilt University, and who has previously published studies supporting the idea that comb jellies are the oldest sister group to all other animals, welcomed the research. “[It] is a great step in the right direction toward resolving the debate,” he said, adding that the analyses comparing the accuracy of models are insightful.

    November 30th, 2017

  • How animals appeared on Earth: Analysis of Australian rock reveals that a flood of nutrients 650 million years ago led to a growth of algae that fed the first creatures on our planet

    'The current method that scientists use in phylogenomic studies is to collect large amounts of genetic data, analyze the data, build a set of relationships and then argue that their conclusions are correct because of various improvements they have made in their analysis,' said Antonis Rokas, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Biological Sciences, who devised the new approach with Vanderbilt postdoctoral scholar Xing-Xing Shen and Assistant Professor Chris Todd Hittinger from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    August 16th, 2017

  • Your Most Distant Animal Relative Is Probably This Tiny Jelly

    “To figure out why [these controversies persist], we specifically examined the two best-supported alternatives for a series of controversies and noted how many genes support one over the other alternative,” explained lead author Antonis Rokas in an interview with Gizmodo. “When we applied our approach to the jellies/sponges question, we found that all available data sets—eight [phylogenetic data sets] so far—favor jellies over sponges.”

    April 11th, 2017