Genomic signatures of good genes sexual selection

Theme: Evolution & Adaptation

Primary Supervisor:

Andrew Pomiankowski

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Kevin Fowler

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

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Project Description:

This project examines good genes sexual selection in stalk-eyed flies. These are textbook examples of sexual selection where females have strong mating preference for males with exaggerated eyespan and gain genetic benefits from their mate choice. Flies harbour SR, an X-linked meiotic drive element, which acts as a selfish genetic element. SR kills Y-bearing sperm in males, reducing male fertility and producing female-biased broods. SR reduces male eyespan allowing females to discriminate against drive males.

The student will carry out genomic sequencing of the SR chromosomes. SR is distinct from the wildtype X, as it contains a large inversion. The objective is to characterise genomic differences and relate them to the expression of the sexual ornament, and so understand how eyespan acts as an “honest” signal of genetic quality. The student will search for genomic signatures of evolved counter-adaptations to the disruptive effects of SR on male fertility.

The student will have the opportunity to carry out controlled laboratory experiments and field studies (in Malaysia) with these flies. We need to study how real-world demographic and ecological variables (including mating patterns and condition-dependent responses) influence drive frequency and its impact on sexual selection. Findings will be integrated with analyses of genomic signatures of changes that are beneficial or deleterious to fitness. Overall this project will document the interaction of sexual selection with a genomic region that reduces the fitness of carriers.

Policy Impact of Research:

This project will provide fundamental insights about sexual selection, meiotic drive and potential adaptive responses in mate preference. It has wider economic relevance in contexts including the development of gene-drive technologies as analogues of meiotic drive in the field and the fate of artificial systems for control of pest species.

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