Dr Nicholas Irwin

Junior Research Fellow in Biology

I am an evolutionary biologist interested in the diversity and evolution of eukaryotic complexity. I use a combination of computational and experimental approaches to study the evolutionary history and drivers of major cellular transitions such as the origins and evolution of molecular systems, especially those within the nucleus, the diversification of major lineages, and the evolution of life histories and morphology. I am interested in leveraging the remarkable variation that exists amongst eukaryotic organisms (e.g., animals, plants, fungi, and protozoa) to identify the evolutionary mechanisms that have given rise to the diversity we see today.


My current research is focused on understanding the impact that viruses have had in driving eukaryotic evolution. The exchange of genes between viruses and eukaryotes, through a process known as horizontal gene transfer, has the capacity to shape viral infection strategies as well as introduce genetic novelty into eukaryotic organisms. I aim to characterize the frequency and impact of these exchanges to understand how viruses have contributed to the evolution of eukaryotic organisms.


Irwin, N. A. T., Pittis, A. A., Richards, T. A., & Keeling, P. J. 2022. Systematic evaluation of horizontal gene transfer between eukaryotes and viruses. Nature Microbiology. 7:327–336

Irwin, N. A. T., Twynstra, C. S., Mathur, V., & Keeling, P. J. 2021. The molecular phylogeny of Chionaster nivalis reveals a novel order of psychrophilic and globally distributed Tremellomycetes (Fungi, Basidiomycota). PLOS ONE. 16: e0247594

Irwin, N. A. T., Pittis, A. A., Mathur, V., Howe, L. J., Keeling, P. J., Lynn, D. H., Bourland, W. A. 2020. The function and evolution of motile DNA replication systems in ciliates. Current Biology. 31:66-76

Irwin, N. A. T. & Keeling, P. J. 2019. Extensive reduction of the nuclear pore complex in nucleomorphs. Genome Biology and Evolution. 11:678-687

Irwin, N. A. T., Tikhonenkov, D., Hehenberger, E., Mylnikov, A., Burki, F., & Keeling, P. J. 2019. Phylogenomics supports the monophyly of the Cercozoa. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 130:416-423

Irwin, N. A. T., Martin, B. J. E., Young, B. P., Browne, M. J. G., Flaus, A., Loewen, C. J. R., Keeling, P. J., & Howe, L. J. 2018. Viral proteins as a potential driver of histone depletion in dinoflagellates. Nature Communications. 9:1535

Irwin, N. A. T., Sabetrasekh, M., & Lynn, D. H. 2017. Diversification and Phylogenetics of Mobilid Peritrichs (Ciliophora) with Description of Urceolaria parakorschelti sp. nov. Protist. 168:481-493

Irwin, N. A. T. & Lynn, D. H. 2015. Molecular phylogeny of Mobilid and Sessilid ciliates symbiotic in Eastern Pacific limpets (Mollusca: Patellogastropoda). Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology. 62:543-552