Junior talent projects in the group

Starting ERC DOUBLE ADAPT: Is genome duplication the way to adaptation?

Mutations are the "fuel" of evolution - they create genetic variability, from which selection can then choose suitable combinations of alleles, which leads to, for example, new adaptations. When we think of mutation, we usually think of substitutions - small changes of individual "letters" (nucleotides) in the DNA molecule. However, there are also much larger mutations: multiplication of entire genes and gene families, rearrangement of part of chromosomes, and even duplication of complete genetic information in the cell nucleus. To use a popular analogy, while substitutions are mere misspellings, genome duplication doubles every letter in the book! Despite the fact that genome duplication is such a large-scale mutation, we encounter it surprisingly often in nature - the champions are plants, including key crops, but it is also common in some groups of animals. If you're nibbling on wheat bread, munching on potato chips, eating a banana, or drinking coffee while reading, you're dealing with a polyploid plant mutant. Despite this importance, however, we still know very little about the natural processes governing the fate of polyploids.

For more than a hundred years, since its discovery, genomic duplication has been shrouded in great mystery. How can such a large mutation lead to viable and often successful offspring? It is obvious and experimentally proven that newly formed polyploids often have major problems with cellular processes and reproduction. Conversely, direct consequences of genome duplication, such as increased gene expression or cell enlargement, may be advantageous under certain circumstances. The duplicated genome also provides new raw material for evolution, increased variability from the gene level, through the wealth of interactions within the organism, as well as the possibility of new links to the surrounding environmental conditions.

The key direction to take next will be to look at entire polyploid populations, both from an ecological and a genomic point of view. Our five-year grant from the European Research Council (Starting grant ERC) aims in this direction. In order to uncover specific mechanisms of adaptation, we will study the genomes of wild populations and expose the same species to adverse conditions and monitor changes in their external characteristics and genomes. This research would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, made possible by the dramatic development of new sequencing technologies. However, sequencing alone is not enough, wild plant research cannot be done without a good knowledge of their natural distribution, ecological and biogeographical links. As part of the ERC project, we plan to combine in an unusual way field and experimental ecological research, which have very solid background and tradition at our workplace, with novel evolutionary-genomic techniques.

Junior Star research talent projetct ConAdapt: When and why genome evolution repeats itself?

Evolution is driven by a combination of deterministic forces and stochasticity, whose relative importance, however, remains a matter of debate. Knowing how predictable is evolution can provide insights into predictive evolution of crops, pathogens or species under climate change.

This novel five-years project funded by a new five-years high-risk Junior Research Talent (JuniorStar) funding scheme will address genomic basis and ecological consequences of convergent genome evolution in natural environments. By leveraging fascinating natural diversity of European Brassicaceae plants which repeatedly adapted to exceptionally strong selective pressure, toxic serpentine soils, we aim at uncovering general mechanisms determining which portion of the genome evolves in a predictable manner.