UCL Division of Biosciences


Professor Andrew Pomiankowski Research Group

We study the evolution and consequences of sexual reproduction, from early forms of living systems to complex eukaryotic life, with a variety of experimental and theoretical approaches. Our research addresses questions around the origin of sexual reproduction and its consequences for eukaryotic evolution.

Our lab is well known for its pioneering work in the field of Sexual Selection. Professor Pomiankowski was one of the first to develop the Handicap Principle and to prove that it was a viable explanation for sexual selection using stalk-eyed flies.

Today our research is primarily focussed on two areas. The first is Sexual Selection, Condition Dependence and Meiotic Drive. The second is The Evolution of Sex and its Consequences. 

insect against green leaf

Current Research Projects

The Evolution of Sex and its Consequences

How did life arise from abiotic precursors? Because life seems to have little to say about the time before its own emergence, the study of abiogenesis demands an examination of prebiotic chemistry and the naturally occurring conditions under which modern carbon-based biochemistry could have emerged. The project builds on the ‘metabolism-first’ theory that energy flow in the form of dynamic proton gradients across inorganic barriers could ultimately yield complex organics including the first polymers and proto-membranes. 

The project also integrates computational modelling and experimental chemistry to systematically test conditions that could favour the emergence of life, including those similar to hydrothermal vents. This award was featured on BBSRC News as one of ‘four ground-breaking new projects set to expand the frontiers of bioscience knowledge’ funded by the BBSRC in 2020.




Sexual Selection, Condition Dependence and Meiotic Drive

Meiotic drivers are genetic variants that selfishly manipulate the production of gametes to increase their own rate of transmission, often to the detriment of the rest of the genome and the individual that carries them. In male flies the meiotic drive results in the production of only female offspring. This project, funded by NERC, has made a new discovery that adaptive change takes place in male flies in order to correct this issue.


meiotic drive in stalk-eyed flies

Notable Projects

Sexual selection: The handicap principle does work - sometimes.

Zahavi’s ‘handicap principle’ proposes that females prefer males with handicaps (mating characters that reduce survival chances) because handicaps are indicators of heritable viability. We showed that there are conditions under which the ‘handicap principle’ causes the runaway exaggeration of male handicaps and female mating preferences. We used theoretical and experimental approaches to study the evolution of female mate preferences for exaggerated male sexual traits used in courtship display. These ideas were tested with stalk-eyed flies, and this experimental work in turn inspired new theories about the signaling value of sexual traits, sperm competition and fertility, male choice of mating partners, female preference and meiotic drive.

peacock flying handicap principle






About Professor Andrew Pomiankowski

Professor Andrew Pomiankowski is an internationally recognised leader in the field of Evolutionary Genetics. He has studied under or with some of the most acclaimed names in this field including John Maynard Smith, Richard Lewontin and WD Hamilton at The University of Oxford, Harvard University, University of Sussex and UCL.  

Pomiankowski has built his internationally recognized research reputation in both theoretical and experimental areas of evolutionary genetics, with a wide range of interests, including sexual selection, the evolution of female mate preferences, the evolution of sex and sexes, meiotic drive, sperm competition, mitochondrial inheritance, the evolution of the germline and the origin of life.

His modelling work caused a fundamental change in our understanding of sexual selection, establishing the handicap theory as the standard explanation of sexual signalling, covered in the leading text books (e.g. Maynard Smith and Harper 2003 Animal Signals; including the cover) and his early papers on meiotic drive and speciation are classics in the field which is undergoing an explosive 3 revival due to interest in gene drive technology.

Pomiankowski has published 152 articles, 8 book chapters and 2 books; and received 11k citations and an h-index of 43 (36 papers with >50 citations, Google Scholar).

Today he combines his role as the Director of the Division of Biosciences at UCL with his research activities (outputs and funding), supervision of PhD and postdoctoral students, fieldwork in Malaysia, presentations at major conferences and events and continues to teach the very popular 3rd year course "Sex, Genes and Evolution" at UCL. 

Professor Andrew Pomkowianski

Andrew Pomiankowski Evolutionary Genetics Book

Lab Research Topics 

Sexual Selection


The Origin of Eukaryotes


The Origin of Cells


The Origin and Evolution of Sex