What makes different species different? Interbreeding incompatible yeast species to map their differences.

This project is available from the academic year 2022/23 onwards.

Theme: Evolution & Adaptation

Primary Supervisor:

Duncan Greig

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Richard Nichols

School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, QMUL

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Project Description:

Knowing the genetic differences that determine the physical and ecological differences between species can help us understand their evolution. It could even answer fundamental questions of why species exist at all. But the greater the differences, the harder this becomes, because species that are very different are incompatible and cannot usually interbreed.

The genomes of the yeast species Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Saccharomyces paradoxus are highly diverged, differing at about 12% of all DNA bases. Their chromosomes are so different that they cannot recombine in a hybrid meiosis, which causes sterility. But we have found a way to artificially generate recombinant hybrid haploid gametes composed of random combinations of both parent species’ chromosomes. The ability to interbreed such diverged species allows us to identify the genes responsible for their differences.

We are particularly interested in the ability of these species to tolerate different temperatures, a difference that determines their geographical range. The evolution of thermal tolerance is especially relevant to the problem of climate change. However, in principle, this system could be used to determine the genetic architecture of other intrinsic or extrinsic traits, and could show how and why these species evolved. The project would involve some combination of wet lab experiments and computational work.

Policy Impact of Research:

We address the fundamental problem of speciation by looking at the genetics of thermal adaptation, relevant to climate change. Novel recombinant yeast hybrids could be useful for the fermented food and drink industries. The project spans several NERC remits including Climate & Climate Change, Genetics & Development, and Microbial Sciences.


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