James received his Ph.D. degree from Duke University in biology in 2003. He was a postdoctoral fellow in biology at Duke University from 2003-2006, in evolutionary biology at Uppsala University from 2006-2007, and in biology at McMaster University 2008.
He studies the evolution of sex and reproductive traits of Fungi and attempts to link these traits with phylogeny and population genetics. He is particularly interested in the intriguing phenomenon of heterokaryosis in Fungi. The heterokaryon is an alternative to diploidy in which multiple genetically-different nuclei inhabit the same cell after mating occurs. He is studying genomic conflict in this system by measuring the degree to which the nuclei of a heterokaryon compete or cooperate with each other. Understanding this behavior includes investigating the role of pheromone signaling in the communication between nuclei.
In addition, his lab is interested in the evolution of the ancient aquatic fungi known as the chytrids. Their methodology includes molecular biology, phylogenetics, and fungal cultivation.