STEM Shoutout: Dr. Davorka Gulisija

New biology faculty member conducts organism adaptation research


Dr. Davorka Gulisija, a new Biology Department faculty member at UNM, is conducting mathematical and statistical modeling research examining fundamental questions about mechanisms of adaptation in organisms. 


Gulisija, who is from the Mediterranean coast in Croatia, joined UNM January 2020 as an assistant professor and says she’s very happy to be a member of such a collegial group of amazing scientists.


“I am excited about pursuing my research and collaborations in such a diverse group of experts in biology, ecology and evolution. My first semester at UNM has been a pandemic semester, but I am looking forward to socializing more with my UNM colleagues in the future. Until then, I am mesmerized by campus architecture and enjoy walks on campus or by the duck pond when I can,” Gulisija said.


Gulisija says her current research focus is primarily on the evolution of microbiomes, which are the microorganisms in a particular environment, as they undergo climate change. 


My lab’s goal is to develop a comprehensive theory and methodology to predict and mitigate negative consequences of climate change on natural populations. We have no intuition about how host-associated microbiomes evolve under climate change, and this poses serious conservation and health concerns. My research involves building theoretical models of microbiome evolution when entire host populations are exposed to sudden shifts in environments, and using theory and genomic data to infer microbiome evolution in natural populations,” Gulisija said.


Gulisija says upon completion of this work we will have a new theory of how climate change is shaping the evolution of microbiomes, which she says will help us better understand and predict the associated risks to human health and ecosystem stability.


Along with this, Gulisija is also researching the genetic basis of human traits that are controlled by numerous genes.


“We have no adequate theory and parametric methods to characterize complex genetic interactions in traits controlled by numerous genes,” Gulisija said. 


However, Gulisija says non-parametric statistics may reveal the unpredictable and theoretically unknown patterns of genetic variation in such traits. Through this, she developed the theory and non-parametric approach for inferring complex genetic interactions in human traits using whole-genome marker information. 


“This research will help us improve understanding and prediction of human inheritance patterns and complex genetic diseases,” Gulisija said. 


While Gulisija says she misses Croatia, she says she is very happy to make Albuquerque her new home.


“Since moving to Albuquerque, I have been enjoying the outdoors, food, and culture. I cannot wait to explore more of what New Mexico has to offer,” Gulisija said.