Newswise — Long after Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection, trait evolution and the Earth’s astonishing biodiversity continue to perplex biologists. The ability to understand what shapes trait evolution across species remains complicated because tools currently available to conduct experiments that rely on accurately making assumptions about evolutionary history are lacking.

To overcome this obstacle, researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science have received a three-year, $596,571 grant from the National Science Foundation to create new paths to test evolutionary hypotheses using novel statistical and machine learning tools.

“The tools we have developed will improve the way classical statistical approaches are conducted and will provide evolutionary biologists with a method to help them answer an array of questions related to evolution across species,” said Raquel Assis, Ph.D., principal investigator, associate professor, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a fellow of FAU’s Institute for Human Health and Disease Intervention (I-HEALTH), who is working on this project with co-PI Michael DeGiorgio, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Assis and DeGiorgio previously developed the first machine learning algorithm for classifying evolutionary outcomes and predicting parameters of duplicate genes from expression data. Their current project involves statistical and supervised machine learning approaches to vigorously and accurately predict general and specific evolutionary mechanisms that also will be applicable to various genomic and transcriptomic data for evolutionary discovery.

“Professors Assis and DeGiorgio are at the forefront of elucidating trait evolution among species and all of the tools and datasets generated by this project will be available to the scientific community at large,” said Stella Batalama, Ph.D., dean, College of Engineering and Computer Science. “Moreover, the project will involve underrepresented groups in science and engineering through recruitment of female Hispanic high school and undergraduate students, and also will provide hands-on courses in evolutionary genomics and bioinformatics for local senior citizens and for Native American communities across the country.”

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About FAU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science:

The FAU College of Engineering and Computer Science is internationally recognized for cutting edge research and education in the areas of computer science and artificial intelligence (AI), computer engineering, electrical engineering, bioengineering, civil, environmental and geomatics engineering, mechanical engineering, and ocean engineering. Research conducted by the faculty and their teams expose students to technology innovations that push the current state-of-the art of the disciplines. The College research efforts are supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Education (DOEd), the State of Florida, and industry. The FAU College of Engineering and Computer Science offers degrees with a modern twist that bear specializations in areas of national priority such as AI, cybersecurity, internet-of-things, transportation and supply chain management, and data science. New degree programs include Master of Science in AI (first in Florida), Master of Science in Data Science and Analytics, and the new Professional Master of Science degree in computer science for working professionals. For more information about the College, please visit


About FAU Institute for Human Health and Disease Intervention (I-HEALTH):

I-Health was created to advance health through pioneering research and practical applications. I-Health is redesigning the health care infrastructure to create novel intervention programs to provide patients and the community with health care for everyday needs as well as the most specialized services for complex diseases, illnesses, and injuries. I-Health also focuses on aging patient populations to provide unique care that is not available elsewhere in the region. In addition to developing clinical trials and conducting clinical and translational research, I-Health will teach and train


About Florida Atlantic University: Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students across six campuses located along the southeast Florida coast. In recent years, the University has doubled its research expenditures and outpaced its peers in student achievement rates. Through the coexistence of access and excellence, FAU embodies an innovative model where traditional achievement gaps vanish. FAU is designated a Hispanic-serving institution, ranked as a top public university by U.S. News & World Report and a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. For more information, visit