About Associate Professor Nathan Lo

The molecular biology revolution of recent decades is facilitating both the molecular mechanisms and evolutionary forces behind key phenomena in non-model organisms to be resolved. These phenomena include the coding of multiple phenotypes into the one genome, as exemplified by the social insects termites.

Associate Professor Lo is an evolutionary biologist who uses genetic and genomic tools to investigate phenomena such as eusociality in insects, intracellular symbiosis. He has a general interest in insect molecular ecology, including phylogenetics and population genetics.

I am an Australian Research Council funded QEII Research Fellow in the former School of Biological Sciences (2010-2014) - currently, School of Life and Environmental Sciences. Together with Prof. Simon Ho, I co-lead the “Molecular Ecology, Evolution, and Phylogenetics” research group. I completed my PhD in the School of Molecular Biosciences back in 2001, and did postdoctoral work in Japan and Italy, before returning to Australia as an ARC-funded Postdoctoral fellow here at Sydney University, and at The Australian Museum. 

I work mostly on termites, cockroaches, and ticks. My early research characterized the first ever animal cellulase genes (such genes were previously thought to be present only in microbes), and showed that termites are a highly derived form of cockroach. More recent work has included characterization of the only described bacterium able to enter the mitochondria of any animal. 

Selected publications

  1. Watanabe H, Noda H, Tokuda H & Lo N (1998) A cellulase gene of termite origin.  Nature 394: 330-331. This paper reported the first animal cellulase gene ever discovered. Cited 136 times 
  2. Tokuda G^, Lo N^, Watanabe H, Slaytor M, Matsumoto T & Noda H (1999) Metazoan cellulase genes from termites: intron/exon structures and sites of expression. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (Gene Structure and Expression) 1447: 146-159  (^equal first authors). Confirmed the standard nature of termite cellulase genes, arguing against the idea of recent horizontal transfer. Cited 77 times
  3. Lo N, Tokuda G, Watanabe H, Rose H, Slaytor M, Maekawa K, Bandi C & Noda H (2000) Evidence from multiple gene sequences indicates that termites evolved from wood-feeding cockroaches. Current Biology 10: 801-804. Provided the first molecular evidence that termites are, in fact, a type of cockroach, providing a key insight into the evolution of eusociality in this group. Cited 123 times
  4. Lo N, Casiraghi M, Salati E, Bazzocchi C & Bandi C (2002) How many Wolbachia supergroups exist? Molecular Biology and Evolution 19: 341-346. Provided the first rigorous phylogenetic framework for examining macroevolution in the ubiquitous intracellular parasite Wolbachia. Cited 100 times 
  5. Lo N, Bandi C, Watanabe H, Nalepa C & Beninati T (2003). Evidence for co-cladogenesis between diverse dictyopteran lineages and their intracellular endosymbionts. Molecular Biology and Evolution 20: 907-913    Showed for the first time that the obligate mutualism between cockroaches, termites and their intracellular Blattabacterium is over 140 million years old. Cited 60 times  
  6. Lo N, Sugimura M & Watanabe H (2003) Evidence for the presence of a cellulase gene in the last common ancestor of bilaterian animals. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B (Biological Sciences) 270: S69-72.   Provided an unexpected solution to the mystery of how diverse animals such as termites, mollusks, & sea-squirts came to possess similar endogenous cellulase genes. Cited 29 times
  7. Beninati T, Lo N, Sacchi L, Genchi C, Noda H & Bandi C (2004) A novel alpha-proteobacterium resides in the mitochondria of ovarian cells of the tick Ixodes ricinus. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 70: 2596-2602   Characterization of the only known bacterium (which we later named Midichloria mitochondrii) able to invade the mitochondria of any multicellular organism. A 'Research Highlight' in Nature Reviews Microbiology (2004, 2: 444) Cited 31 times
  8. Hayashi Y, Lo N, Miyata H & Kitade O (2007) Sex-linked genetic influence on caste determination in a termite. Science 318: 985-987  First demonstration in a termite of the counterintuitive phenomenon of genetic caste determination; featured in a Perspective of the same issue. Cited 24 times. Supported by DP045085
  9. Lo N, Hayashi Y & Kitade O (2009) Should environmental caste determination be assumed for termites? The American Naturalist, 173: 848-853. The first paper to challenge the widespread belief that genotype plays little role in termite caste determination. Supported by DP045085
  10. Bordenstein SR, Paraskevopoulos C, Dunning Hotopp JC, Sapountzis P, Lo N, Bandi C, Tettelin H, Werren JH & Bourtzis K (2009) Parasitism and mutualism in Wolbachia: what the phylogenomic trees can and can not say. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 26: 231-241   First rigorous phylogenomic analysis of Wolbachia macroevolution. Supported by DP045085