Laboratory of Artificial
& Natural Evolution

(Michel C. Milinkovitch’s lab)


Context. We are combining Evolutionary Developmental Biology (EvoDevo) and the study of physical processes (Physics of Biology) to understand the mechanisms generating complexity and diversity in the living world. We specialise on non-classical model species in reptiles and mammals and we integrate data and analyses from comparative genomics, molecular developmental genetics, as well as computer modeling and numerical simulations. In a previous life, the core activities in my lab pertained to the production of experimental data and the development of tools and algorithms in Evolutionary Genetics (Conservation Genetics, Molecular Phylogenetics, and Applied Evolutionary Genetics).

EvoDevo & the Physics of Biology. Given that a large proportion of evolutionary mechanisms act on the phenotypes that originate from development, our understanding of both evolution and development benefits from the merging of the two disciplines into evolutionary developmental biology (EvoDevo). Remarkably, many questions in EvoDevo are conceptually similar to those investigated in soft-matter physics, statistical physics, and mechanics. For example, self-organisational capabilities of cells and tissues and the role of geometry and form are pertinent to EvoDevo at multiple scales and levels of analysis. Our objectives are to understand the interactions between physical (e.g., mechanics, reaction diffusion) and biological (e.g., cell signalling, proliferation, migration) parameters generating patterns and shapes during development. Our projects are, by essence, highly multidisciplinary and integrative as they require investigation, across lineages, of morphological, physiological and genomic characters. Hence, our lab includes Evolutionary and Developmental Biologists, Computer Scientists, Engineers and Physicists.

Projects. In collaboration with Bastien Chopard (Computer Science, UniGE), Marcos Gonzalez-Gaitan (Biochemistry, UniGE), Aurélien Roux (Biochemistry, UniGE), and Andreas Wagner (UniZH), we have built the EpiPhysX consortium (funded by, with the aim to understand how the interactions between physical and biological parameters explain the 3D organization of the developing embryo. More information is available HERE.

Similarly, we have built the United Living Colours “dot CH” consortium (funded by the Swiss National Foundation SINERGIA multidiciplinary program) together with Dirk van der Marel (Quantum Materials Group, UniGE) and Matthias Zwicker (Computer Graphics Group, UniBE). In this project, we investigate the complex interactions between light and the vertebrate skin and how they generate a variety of astonishing phenomena. More information is available HERE

We also investigate the patterns of skin appendages and the patterns of skin colours in vertebrates, especially reptiles.

We integrate these results into an evolutionary and molecular genetic perspective, hence, we extensively use comparative genomics/transcriptomics and we develop phylogeny inference tools.


The homology among hairs, feathers and scales demonstrated. Check our Science Advances article in which we evidence molecular and micro-anatomical signatures that are identical between hairs, feathers and scales at their early developmental stages t.

The amelanistic mutation identified in corn snakes. Check our Scientific Reports article in which we identify the genetic determinism of the oldest know corn snake colour trait.

Reptilian EvoDevo meets Genomics/Transcriptomics. Check our two new articles and resources: the ‘Reptilian Transcriptomes Database 2.0’ and the draft genome of the corn snake. Additional info HERE.

R2OBBIE-3D: scanning Life with high resolution. Check our robotic system that generates 3D models of biological objects <150 cm with colour-texture and geometric resolutions <15 µm without the use of magnifying lenses. Additional info HERE.

How the chameleon changes its colours. We show in ‘Nature Communications’  how intracellular crystals at the nanometer scale allow chameleons to actively shift colour and resist to extreme solar radiation exposure.

Cracking the Code of Crocodile Scales. We show in ‘Science’ that Crocodile Head Scales Are Not Developmental Units But Emerge from Physical Cracking

Click HERE for more news ...