Influence of structural variants on fitness and reproductive isolation.

Theme: Evolution & Adaptation

Main Supervisor:

Daniel Jeffares


Second Supervisor:

Jurg Bahler


Project Description:

The populations of many organisms contain segregating structural variants (SVs) in their genomes. SVs include inversions, duplications and translocations of DNA sequences known to affect quantitative traits and reproductive isolation, perhaps leading to speciation. However, there is a surprising lack of genome-scale experimental data that demonstrate the phenotypic and evolutionary effects of SVs.

We and others have recently shown that fission yeast is an excellent model to analyse these processes. We have assembled a collection of 160 natural isolates which often show poor viability among their offspring, suggesting an emerging reproductive isolation. Unpublished results reveal that these natural isolates contain hundreds of SVs, including large inversions and translocations, which affect recombination.

These SVs may therefore explain the reproductive isolation, and also contribute to natural selection. The PhD student will investigate the effects of these SVs using both experimental and bioinformatics approaches. The CRSIPR-Cas9 system now allows us to precisely edit genomes in vivo.

Thus, naturally occurring SVs can be recreated in laboratory strains to examine their effects on traits and reproductive isolation in controlled environments. Next-generation sequencing will be applied to quantify the effects of SVs on recombination and gene flow within populations. This project suits students interested in population genetics, genome evolution, speciation or adaptation.

Policy Impact of Research:

This project will advance our understanding of a fundamental process of evolution – the origin of species. Fission yeast is emerging as a model for quantitative genetics and genome evolution, and this research will provide valuable insights into the contribution of large variants to complex traits.

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