Philipp W. Messer
Assistant Professor

Philip W. Messer




Department of Biological Statistics & Computational Biology
Cornell University
102J Weill Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853


Web Sites

Department Profile

Lab Website


Philipp Messer studied Physics, Human Physiology, and Computational Biology at the University of Cologne and the Max-Planck-Institute for Molecular Genetics. He received his PhD, Summa Cum Laude, from the Department of Mathematics at the Free University of Berlin. After spending several years as a Human Frontiers Science Program (HFSP) postdoctoral fellow in Dmitri Petrov’s lab at Stanford, he joined the Department of Biological Statistics and Computational Biology at Cornell as a tenure-track Assistant Professor in 2014.

Research Description

The Messer lab is interested in a broad range of questions in evolutionary biology and population genetics. A particular focus of the lab lies in studying cases of rapid adaptation that provide the opportunity to observe evolution in real-time and repeatedly. Examples of such rapid adaptations include the evolution of drug resistance in pathogens, such as Malaria and HIV, and the emergence of pesticide resistance in insects.

Despite the fact that adaptation is the central process in evolution, we still know surprisingly little about its population genetics. Does adaptation typically involve a few or many molecular variants? Are such variants already present in the population or do they arise by de novo mutation? What is the typical strength of natural selection that drives adaptation, and how quickly can adaptation occur?

Research in the Messer lab addresses these questions through the development of novel approaches to learn about the process of adaptation and ultimately turn its study into a quantitative and predictive science. Projects in the lab employ a wide range of computational and analytical approaches in combination with the analysis of population genomic, ecological, and clinical data. The lab also collaborates closely with experimental groups to uncover the molecular basis of adaptation.

Selected Publications

S Glemin, PF Arndt, PW Messer, DA Petrov, N Galtier, L Duret (2014) Quantification of GC-biased gene conversion in the human genome. Genome Research (in revision)

NR Garud, PW Messer, EO Buzbas, DA Petrov (2014) Recent selective sweeps in North American Drosophila melanogaster show signatures of soft sweeps. PLoS Genetics (in revision)

BA Wilson, DA Petrov, PW Messer (2014) Soft selective sweeps in complex demographic scenarios. Genetics 198:669

D Enard, PW Messer, DA Petrov (2014) Genome wide signals of positive selection in human evolution. Genome Research24:885

PW Messer, DA Petrov (2013) Population genomics of rapid adaptation by soft selective sweeps. Trends Ecol Evol. 28:659

PW Messer (2013) SLiM: Simulating Evolution with Selection and Linkage. Genetics 194:1037

PW Messer, DA Petrov (2013) Frequent adaptation and the McDonald-Kreitman test. PNAS 110:8615

DS Lawrie, PW Messer, R Hershberg, DA Petrov (2013) Strong purifying selection at synonymous sites in D.melanogaster.  PLoS Genetics 9:e1003527

F Staubach, A Lorenc, PW Messer, K Tang, DA Petrov, D Tautz (2012) Genome patterns of selection and introgression of haplotypes in natural populations of the house mouse (mus musculus). PLoS Genet. 8:e100289

PW Messer, RA Neher (2012) Estimating the strength of selective sweeps from deep population diversity data. Genetics191:593

D Sellis, BJ Callahan, DA Petrov, PW Messer (2011) Heterozygote advantage as a natural consequence of adaptation in diploids. PNAS108:20666

DS Lawrie, DA Petrov, PW Messer (2011) Faster than neutral evolution of constrained sequences: the complex interplay of mutational biases and weak selection. Genome Biol Evol. 3:383

TL Karasov*, PW Messer*, DA Petrov (2010) Evidence that adaptation in Drosophila is not limited by mutation at single sites. PLoS Genet. 6:e1000924 (*equal contribution)

J Gonzalez, TL Karasov, PW Messer, DA Petrov (2010) Genome-wide patterns of adaptation to temperate environments associated with transposable elements in Drosophila. PLoS Genet. 6:e1000905

PW Messer (2009) Measuring the rates of spontaneous mutation from deep and large-scale polymorphism data. Genetics 182:1219

J Gonzalez*, JM Macpherson*, PW Messer*, DA Petrov (2009) Inferring the strength of selection in Drosophila under complex demographic models. Mol Biol Evol. 26:513 (*equal contribution)

N de la Chaux, PW Messer, PF Arndt (2007) DNA indels in coding regions reveal selective constraints on protein evolution in the human lineage. BMC Evol Biol. 7:191

PW Messer, PF Arndt (2007) The majority of recent short DNA insertions in the human genome are tandem duplications. Mol Biol Evol. 24:1190

PW Messer, R Bundschuh, M Vingron, PF Arndt (2007) Effects of long-range correlations in DNA on sequence alignment score statistics. J Comp Biol. 14:655

PW Messer, R Bundschuh, M Vingron, PF Arndt (2006) Alignment statistics for long-range correlated genomic sequences. RECOMB 2006. 426

PW Messer, PF Arndt (2006) CorGen — measuring and generating long-range correlations for DNA sequence analysis. Nuc Acid Res. 34:W692

PW Messer, M Lassig, PF Arndt (2005) Universality of long-range correlations in expansion-randomization systems. J Stat Mech. P10004

PW Messer, PF Arndt, M Lassig (2005) Solvable sequence evolution models and genomic correlations. Phys Rev Lett. 94:138103