Annual Report 2021
A year of science for the future of biodiversity
We are a research institute working to understand the evolutionary mechanisms that generate biodiversity and to promote its conservation.
The Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE) is dedicated to understanding the mechanisms that generate biodiversity and the genetic basis of evolution. Our work is helping to unravel how evolution works and to translate discoveries into new ways to conserve biodiversity.
Founded in 2008, the IBE is a unique partnership between the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the Pompeu Fabra University (UPF). It brings together more than 120 people and 25 research groups distributed in 5 scientific programs on Evolutionary Biology research.
Javier del Campo started leading the Microbial Ecology and Evolution lab. His research will focus on the study of host-associated microbes and the effect of global warming on the microbiomes of benthic and planktonic marine animals.
For his part, Daniel Richter started leading the Biology and Ecology of Abundant Protists lab. His goal will be to isolate, culture and subsequently characterize the cell biology, behaviour and ecosystem relevance of the most abundant unknown protists on earth.
The PhD Student Group of IBE organized its second IBE PhD Symposium during the 4th & 5th February 2021. The virtual event consisted of a number of talks by IBE PhD Students, a round table on scientific career and a poster session.
Aida Andrés, Evolutionary Biologist at the UCL Genetics Institute and former member of the IBE community, held a plenary session to round up the symposium.
IBE principal investigator Rosa Fernández will represent Spain in the European Reference Genome Atlas (ERGA) consortium together with CSIC researcher Ana Riesgo. The mission of ERGA will be to create high quality reference genomes for all European species.
ERGA is part of the worldwide initiative Earth Biogenome Project (EBP), which aims to sequence, catalogue and characterize the genomes of all of Earth’s eukaryotic biodiversity over a period of ten years.
The IBE launched the social media campaign “Focus on Me, I'm visible” to mark the occasion of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The campaign, led in coordination with the IBE Diversity Committee, was aimed at bringing gender bias in science into sharp focus. IBE researchers also virtually visited schools to share with them their personal experience as scientists and their current research. Thanks to Miriam Merenciano from Evolutionary and Functional Genomics Lab, Rocío Caro from Evolutionary Population Genetics Lab and Gemma Isabel Martinez and Vanina Fabiola from Metazoa Phylogenomics Lab this year we reached over 200 students.
Last March the urbanization plan for the area of the old Mercat del Peix was approved, which officially kick-started the construction project for the research and innovation complex focused on biomedicine, biodiversity and planetary well-being.
The new complex, promoted by Barcelona City Council and Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), with the participation of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST), will include a new building that will house the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE).
With this accreditation, the FECYT recognizes the work for the dissemination of science of all member institutions. IBE has been member of this network since 2019.
The Catalan Biogenome Project (CBP) aims to produce a detailed catalogue of the genome of eukaryotic species in the Catalan territories, and it is part of the worldwide initiative Earth Biogenome Project (EBP).
The CBP is a collaborative project that has the support and direct participation of more than 20 centres throughout the Catalan-speaking territory, including the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE).
The Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) published the first two instalments of the 14 CSIC white papers that collect the scientific challenges of the decade, in order to broaden the knowledge about evolution and genomics.Researchers from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE) contributed to the white book “Origins, (Co) Evolution, Diversity & Synthesis of Life”, which addresses the emergence of life and its diversification to current biology and to the White book “Ocean science challenges for 2030”, in particular the challenge “Oceans of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence”.
Biodiversity Day 2021 was celebrated under the slogan: "We're part of the solution #ForNature". From nature-based solutions to climate, health issues, food and water security, and sustainable livelihoods, biodiversity is the foundation upon which we can build back better.
At the IBE we joined the Biodiversity Day 2021 by sharing research projects that are contributing to biodiversity conservation.
IBE predoctoral researcher Marina Álvarez from the Comparative and Computational Genomics lab was the winner of the Rin4' competition, in which doctoral students explain their research in four minutes to a non-specialist audience.
During her presentation “Save our evolutionary cousins”, she explained how she works with faecal samples from gorillas to create a genetic map of the main populations.
IBE gets two new representatives to the IBE Student Group. They are Pablo Carrión, predoctoral researcher at the Palogenomics Lab, and Marc Palmada, predoctoral researcher at the Comparative Genomics Lab.
The IBE student group is an organization formed by all PhD and Master students conducting research at IBE. It's a forum for students to share their experience and express their worries, and also to actively contribute to the doctoral training.
The architectural complex that goes out to tender is made up of two buildings. The first of them will house the new headquarters of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE), where the joint research centre of the CSIC and UPF will bring together its 130 researchers in the study and conservation of biodiversity. With these new facilities, the IBE will have the necessary conditions to create new and more internationally competitive research groups.
From now on, they will jointly lead the activity of the committee. As part of its duty, the Diversity Committe will keep working to promote diversity in research and within the IBE community and to propose specific measures to mitigate the gender gap of the institution.
They are Cladocora caespitosa, the only reef-building coral in the Mediterranean, and Iberolacerta aurelioi, a lizard that only lives in the Central Pyrenees above 2,000 metres.
The projects, led by IBE researchers Javier del Campo and Salvador Carranza respectively, are among the 8 funded in the second call of the Projecte Biogenoma Català.
The pioneer Catalan project aims to conserve biodiversity through the preservation of animal biomaterials. The BioBanc is based on the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, which hosts the CryoZoo, and the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), housing the tissue bank.
The CryoZoo is an innovative cellular project that provides an invaluable store of cells, but also a repository of molecular information that will be shared with the scientific community.
Oscar Lao started leading the Algorithms for Population Genomics lab. His research will be focused on developing new tools and machine-learning algorithms to better understand how genetic variation is generated in a species and which are the associated phenotypic consequences of such variation.
IBE researchers led by Rosa Fernández have shed light on the genomic basis of
cave-dwelling invertebrates, paving the road towards understanding the genomic
adaptation to the subterranean lifestyle at a deeper level.
Article: Balart-García, P., Cieslak, A., Escuer, P., Rozas, J., Ribera, I. and Fernández, R. (2021). Smelling in the dark: Phylogenomic insights into the chemosensory system of a subterranean beetle. Molecular Ecology, 30(11): 2573-2590.
Figure caption: Image of the cave-dwelling coleopteran S. longicornis, which has an optimized chemosensory repertoire adapted to the deep subterranean environment. Credit: C. Vanderbergh
An IBE team led by Jose Castresana sheds light on the effects that population
strong isolation have left in the Pyrenean desman (Galemys pyrenaicus) genome. This
mammal, only present in the Iberian Peninsula, poses a case study on how
inbreeding - mating between closely related individuals - can threaten endangered
Article: Escoda, L. and Castresana, J. (2021). The genome of the Pyrenean desman and the effects of bottlenecks and inbreeding on the genomic landscape of an endangered species. Evolutionary Applications, 14(7): 1898-1913.
Figure caption: Effect of inbreeding on genome-wide heterozygosity of two Pyrenean desmans. Credit: Lidia Escoda and Jose Castresana
A research team led by IBE researcher Arcadi Navarro has identified more than 2,000
genes linked to human longevity from an evolutionary perspective. The comparative
study, including 57 species of mammals, opens the door to developing new therapeutic
to treat diseases associated with ageing in humans.
Article: Farré X., Molina R., Barteri F., Timmers P.R.H.J., Joshi P.K., Oliva B., Acosta, S., Esteve-Altava B., Navarro A., Muntané G. (2021). Comparative analysis of mammal genomes unveils key genomic variability for human lifespan. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 38(11): 4948-4961.
Figure caption: Image via pxhere of public domain with licence CC0.
In this study co-led by IBE researcher Josefa González, whole-genome sequencing of
melanogaster - densely sampled through time and space - provides insights into the
evolutionary history, varying selection, and local adaptations of fruit flies.
Article: Kapun M., Nunez J. C. B., Bogaerts-Marquez M., (...), Petrov D., Schmidt P., Gonzalez J., Flatt T., Bergland A. O. (2021) Drosophila Evolution over Space and Time (DEST): A New Population Genomics Resource; Mol Biol Evol. 38(12): 5782-5805.
Figure caption: The study was the cover of MBE journal. Artwork Credit: Roberto Torres.
An IBE research team led by Ricard Solé has used synthetic biology to develop a new type
genetic design based on the E. coli bacteria model that can reproduce some of the key
processes that enable creating structures in natural systems, from termite nests to the
development of embryos.
Article: Duran-Nebreda S., Pla J., Vidiella B., Piñero J., Conde-Pueyo N., Solé R. (2021). Synthetic Lateral Inhibition in Periodic Pattern Forming Microbial Colonies. ACS Synth. Biol. 10(2): 277–285.
Figure caption: Petri dish with the bacteria E. coli forming patterns induced by the new synthetic system. Credit Ricard Solé.
A multidisciplinary team led by IBE researcher Ricard Solé has managed to create a
circuit that allows living cells to reach critical states, stimulating new patterns of
behaviour. The study may help to better understand the origin of cognition, and even
the administration of drugs against tumours.
Article: Vidiella B., Guillamon A., Sardanyés J., Maull V., Pla J., Conde N., Solé R. (2021). Engineering self-organized criticality in living cells. Nature Communications 12: 4415.
Figure caption: The new genetic circuit allows cells to reach critical states. Credit: Ricard Solé.
A research team led by IBE researchers Elena Casacuberta and Iñaki Ruiz-Trillo has
stable transfection together with additional genetic tools for a new lineage of the
unicellular eukaryotes closest to animals, Corallochytrea. These advances will help to
understand the evolution towards the origin of animals from a cell biological
Moreover, the authors took advantage of stable transfection to describe the life cycle
Corallochytrium limacisporum, which turned to be non-linear and with a decoupled
Article: Kożyczkowska A., Najle S. R. , Ocaña-Pallarès E., Aresté C., Shabardina V., Ara P. S., Ruiz-Trillo I., Casacuberta E. (2021). Stable transfection in the protist Corallochytrium limacisporum allows identification of novel cellular features among unicellular relatives of animals. Current Biology 31(18):4104-4110.e5.
Figure caption: C. limacisporum cells before and after the completion of cytokinesis (with labeling of plasma membrane and nuclei). Right: Cell before completion of cell division. Left: Two cells after cytokinesis is completed. Credit: Elena Casacuberta and Iñaki Ruiz-Trillo.
A research team led by IBE researcher Xavier Bellés has discovered the molecular
hidden behind the mayfly’s mysterious transition to adulthood. The study reveals that
moult once more after metamorphosis, which allows them to complete morphological
as well as to reach sexual maturity and reproduce efficiently during their last hours of
Article: Kamsoi O., Ventos-Alfonso A., Casares F., Almudi I., Belles X. (2021). Regulation of metamorphosis in neopteran insects is conserved in the paleopteran Cloeon dipterum (Ephemeroptera). PNAS, 118(34): e2105272118.
Figure caption: A mayfly. Credit: Erik Karits, via Unsplash.
An international study led by IBE researcher David Comas has revealed that the genetic
uniqueness of the Basque population is not due to its external origin with respect to
Iberian populations, but reduced contacts after the Iron Age. The multidisciplinary team
proposes the cultural language barrier as a possible explanation for the isolation and
genetic substructure of the Basque population.
Article: Flores-Bello A., Bauduer F., Salaberria J., Oyharçabal B., Calafell F., Bertranpetit J., Quintana-Murci L., Comas D. (2021). Genetic origins, singularity, and heterogeneity of Basques. Curr Biol. 31(10):2167-2177.e4.
Figure caption: Colour representation of the genetic mix and structure in the Basque Country; green symbolizes the Basques, while blue and red show mixing with adjacent populations. Credit: André Flores-Bello.
It is well known that regulatory elements (RE) controlling gene expression are
distributed throughout the genome. However, it remains unclear how this distribution is
associated to the needs of a tissue-specific gene expression. In this article, a team
IBE researcher Sandra Acosta identifies an intrinsic relationship between intronic RE
functional commitment of tissues.
Article: Borsari B., Villegas-Mirón P., Pérez-Lluch S., Turpin I., Laayouni H., Segarra-Casas A., Bertranpetit J., Guigó R., Acosta S. (2021). Enhancers with tissue-specific activity are enriched in intronic regions. Genome Research 31(8):1325-1336.
Figure caption: Common enhancers to all tissues are preferentially located in intergenic regions, while tissue-specific enhancers are more often located in introns, specially for tissue with an elevated degree of specialization such as the muscle and the brain.