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Genetics underpinning novel phenotypes in social evolution and pesticide response

Thursday 5 December 2019, 1.00PM

Speaker(s): Dr Yannick Wurm, Queen Mary University of London

Ecological, behavioural and theoretical studies have informed our understanding of the impacts and tradeoffs of different environments. In contrast, we know relatively little about the genes and genetic architectures, underpinning response or adaption to new environments. Two of our projects on social insects contribute to this understanding.

1. A fundamental trait that varies throughout the ants is whether a colony will include one or several queens. In the invasive red fire ant we demonstrated that this dimorphism is determined by alternate variants of a "supergene" region of suppressed recombination containing >400 protein-coding genes. Using population genomics, phylogenetic and transcriptomic approaches I will share our current understanding of the forces involved in the evolution and maintenance of this system, and contrast this with what occurs in other systems where this a similar phenotype has independently evolved. 

2. Bumblebees are key pollinators that face many widely publicised environmental challenges including habitat loss and pesticide exposure. To complement traditional behavioural experiments, we are developing a molecular toolkit to examine pollinator health. This has identified genes and pathways involved in the response to pesticide exposure, as well as regions in the genome with strong signs of recent sweeps in wild populations. 

Both project shed general light on the mechanisms underpinning phenotypic novelty and the constraints that natural selection must work with. 
More on Dr Yannick Wurm 

Location: Dianna Bowles Lecture Theatre B/K/018