Research

ADAPTIVE EVOLUTION

Adaptation is the key concept in Evolutionary Biology. Understanding adaptation has important scientific and social implications since adaptation underlies processes such as the ability of species to survive in changing environments, resistance to antibiotics and cancer chemotherapies and host-pathogen interactions, among others.
However, adaptation is to date a very poorly understood process largely because the current approaches to the study of adaptation are often exclusively based on a priori candidate genes or on searching for signals of selection at the DNA level giving us an incomplete and biased picture of the adaptive process.

In our lab we aimed at understanding the molecular process of adaptation and its functional consequences. Towards this end, we study recent transposable element (TE)-induced adaptations in Drosophila melanogaster.


DECIPHERING THE ROLE OF TRANSPOSABLE ELEMENTS IN ADAPTATION

Transposable elements (TEs) are short DNA sequences, typically from a few hundred bp to ~10 kb long, that have the ability to move around in the genome often generating new copies of themselves in the process. TEs contribute from ~1% to ~85% to total DNA and have great impact in the genome structure and function because they generate rearrangements, regulate gene expression and alter gene function. Thus, understanding TE activities provides a deeper knowledge of fundamental biological questions.

We performed the first genome-wide screening for recent TE-induced adaptations. Using several independent criteria, we identified a set of 18 adaptive TEs and estimated that 25-50 TEs have played adaptive roles since the migration of D. melanogaster out-of-Africa. However, the set of adaptive insertions identified so far is too small to extract general conclusions about the process of adaptation. In our lab we are searching for more adaptive TE insertions using genome sequences made available by other labs and also by sequencing particular populations.

POPULATION DYNAMICS OF TRANSPOSABLE ELEMENTS

TEs are ubiquitous, extremely active and an abundant part of eukaryotic genomes. In our lab we are also interested in understanding the population dynamics of TEs. We analyze the frequency of all the TEs identified in the genome. This data will allow us to determine the relative importance of several hypothesized selective forces in the copy number maintenance for different families and types of TEs.
The recent sequencing of 11 other Drosophila genomes provides an unprecedented opportunity for the study of TEs. The availability of these data should allow us to investigate the TE population dynamics in both a short and a long time scale, in species with presumably large and small population size and in species both globally distributed and restricted to specific geographical areas.

CHROMOSOME EVOLUTION: RATES, PATTERNS AND MECHANISMS UNDERLYING THEM
Understanding the dynamics of eukaryotic chromosomal evolution is fundamental to our understanding of genome biology and evolution, e. g. species origin, survival and adaptation. In our lab we are also interested in understanding the rates and patterns of chromosome evolution and the mechanisms underlying them. We collaborate with Prof. Alfredo Ruiz lab at the Universitat Autonòma de Barcelona on the sequencing and characterization of the breakpoint regions of several inversions in the Drosophila repleta group species.

FUNDING

2015-present

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2011-2015

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