10 Projects, page 1 of 2
The vast majority of species have two sexes and both are needed to reproduce. But one mode of reproduction is especially interesting because it combines a seemingly impossible combination of traits. In this mode, gynogenesis, eggs have to be fertilized by males of a different species, but the genes provided by males are not incorporated into the offspring, which means that the resulting offspring are identical to their mothers. More importantly, it is often assumed that several important evolutionary changes, such as the loss of males and formation of diploid eggs, happened at the same time. Theoretically, he accumulation of large transitions in a single evolutionary step is highly unlikely, but this is nonetheless the prevailing explanation. In the proposed project, the researchers will attempt to form a synthetic gynogenetic species by carefully establishing the evolutionary and molecular pathway that led to the origin of a fish species, the Amazon molly. The research will test the assumption that major evolutionary transitions can happen simultaneously. The team located in Great Britain will be using mathematical models to guide actual experiments crossing existing species and their hybrids by a team located in the USA. This will allow a much deeper understanding of the process that leads to gynogenesis in particular and sexual reproduction in general. Furthermore, this research will provide a platform for outreach to the public via workshops and training opportunities for multiple young scientists in the STEM field. The research aims at artificially forming a species through hybridization of two existing species determining the most likely evolutionary pathway from one to the other. The existing species at the origin of the new species are fishes from Texas and Mexico, and the new species results of a hybridization event in nature. To retrace the evolution of this species the research team will use several mathematical techniques, including differential equations and Monte-Carlo Simulations to model the most likely pathway for the evolution of a unique set of traits, including unisexuality, formation of unreduced eggs, and clonality. Current thinking claims that all of these massive changes happened in one giant evolutionary step, but this seems unlikely from a theory point of view. Guided by the mathematical models, a large-scale crossing experiment will be conducted to actually form a gynogenetic species in the laboratory. This will involve crossing sexual fishes, and also crossing the resulting F1 individuals amongst each other, and backcrossing them. Every unique cross will further be characterized genomically, genetically, and morphologically.
The key aspect of this proposal is to create a skills programme for the workforce that will underpin the Digital Research Infrastructure. This will be an in-person event held during the timeframe of this proposal, and the materials will also be recorded and curated, so that these will form the basis of an ongoing training programme. Hence we will directly address the skills of 120 research computing professionals (including RSEs) in the immediate timeframe, which will have an immediate impact on a wide range of academic communities, and also create an ongoing activity for future communities. This will ensure that the proposal delivers long-term value, and supports the evolution of the DRI. This proposal will directly train a large number (target = 120) of research computing professionals, which will then have a 'ripple effect' on a much wider number of researchers. One of the key aspects of the training is communication between different domains, and addressing the skills gap in areas such as this will have a major impact and enhance the return on investment of many other DRI activities. The existing EPSRC investments in tier-1 and tier-2 computing are at least £80m, and so this modest proposal will significantly impact the ability of researchers to leverage these existing significant investments, and form a basis for training new cohorts in the future. The skills programme will present opportunities for additional utilisation of EPSRC HPC estate to further expand the user base, including provision for UKRI researchers outside of the EPSRC remit, through equipping a diverse cohort with the relevant professional skills within our institutions. It will support expansion of the HPC user base through new and existing networks of researchers across the EPSRC landscape, and it represents a direct investment in the UK's skills base and software development community required for the continued operation of high quality HPC services. The timescale of this call are very tight, and given the current extreme difficulties in purchasing hardware within the timeframe, we have opted for the skills programme proposal, rather than additional hardware. We strongly believe that this will have significant impact across the DRI landscape, both in the immediate timeframe of the proposal and in the future. We are confident that we can deliver this programme within the timeframe, without the risk of hardware delivery missing deadlines, whilst also providing very good value for money. There are some minor risks, which have been considered, and appropriate precautionary measures have been put in place.
Explaining the diversity of life on earth has long been a goal of biology. However we understand very little about the changes in the genome that underlie variation in the way cells read, interpret and execute the instructions coded in that genome, and how such changes interact in order to produce an organism with a modified shape or size. There is also a paucity of knowledge about whether the genetic changes that affect a given trait also cause in differences in other traits, and even less about their effect on reproductive success. Male sexual characters are often among the first traits to diverge between closely related species. Characterising the genes involved, their interactions, the evolutionary forces involved and fitness consequences of this rapid evolution offers a great opportunity to understand the processes of animal diversification, reproductive isolation and the evolution of new species. Among Drosophila species, males exhibit striking differences in genitalia morphology. The posterior lobes and claspers, in particular, differ in size, shape and bristle number between species. Moreover these structures are important for proper attachment of the male to the female during mating. Despite previous mapping studies, none of the genes involved have been identified, which is required to characterise how the underling genetic changes interact, if they also cause differences in other traits, and their effect on reproductive success. Therefore, in this proposal, we aim to identify the genes underlying variation in the morphology of the clasper and posterior lobe between D. mauritiana and D. simulans. Our preliminary results have already identified several small genomic regions responsible for a large proportion of the variation in posterior lobe and clasper. Here we propose to investigate the role of candidate genes found in those regions of the genome during clasper and posterior lobe development in the model D. melanogaster, and then verify their direct role in the evolution of variation in these structures between D. mauritiana and D. simulans. Once we have identified the genes responsible for the differences in genital morphology, we will survey natural variation by sequencing those genes in several strains of each species and test if these sequences have evolved under directional selection or just by chance. Interaction between genes can either facilitate or delay the evolution of a given trait, Therefore, we will test how the D. mauritiana and D. simulans alleles interact with other genomic regions underlying variation in the clasper and posterior lobe to evaluate the contribution of additive and/or non-additive (epistatic) genetic interactions to the divergence of these two traits. Furthermore we will test if the causative genes affect gene expression or morphology, at other stages of development and in other tissues (pleiotropic effects), to evaluate these changes in the wider context of animals development and how this evolves. Finally we will test if the changes in posterior lobe and clasper morphology affect reproductive success. Our work will serve as platform for further research to test the generality our findings on genital evolution and broaden our knowledge of how the genetic mechanisms underlying developmental programs integrate genotypic information to specify the phenotype and help explain how the vast organismal diversity in the natural world has evolved. Moreover, our study of male genitalia diversity may also help to address questions regarding the genetic architecture of quantitative traits including the role of epistasis and any pleiotropic effects. Given both the prominence of studies relating genes to appearance and behaviour and our general fascination with animal diversity, research such as ours offers an opportunity to not only appreciate this diversity, but explain the genetic nuts and bolts that have shaped it.
Plants are currently reducing the rate of 21st Century climate change by absorbing a substantial amount of the carbon dioxide that Humankind releases to the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels. However, the rate of carbon dioxide production by soils as plant material decomposes (known as soil respiration) increases at higher temperatures. Therefore, as global temperatures rise, it is feared that ecosystems which are currently absorbing carbon dioxide may begin to release it, with models predicting that this could increase the rate of climate change by 40 %. This prediction is based largely on knowledge of how soil respiration responds to short-term changes in temperature. However, in long-term warming experiments, following the initial stimulation of activity, rates of respiration tend to decline back towards pre-warming levels. This has led to the suggestion that the micro-organisms responsible for breaking down organic matter may be acclimating to compensate for the warmer temperatures, and that this phenomenon may preserve carbon stocks in the world's soils. There is an alternative explanation for the patterns observed in long-term warming experiments. The initial stimulation of activity may result in the depletion of soil carbon stores, leaving microbes with less to break down, and so reducing rates of respiration. While acclimation could preserve stocks, the carbon depletion explanation implies that the reduction in respiration rates is simply a consequence of the continuing loss of carbon from soils to the atmosphere. Therefore, it is critical to distinguish between these two possible explanations. Previously, methodological limitations have prevented us from determining which explanation is correct. The problem was that when soils are warmed up, acclimation and carbon loss are both expected to reduce respiration rates, making it impossible to distinguish between them. We have shown that this problem can be overcome by using soil cooling. When soils are cooled, initially activity will decline but if acclimation occurs to compensate for the lowering of temperature, rates of respiration should subsequently increase. On the other hand, as carbon losses continue at the lower temperature, albeit at a reduced rate, they cannot be implicated in any recovery of respiration rates. So carbon loss and thermal acclimation are now working in opposite directions, allowing us to distinguish between them. This logic was applied to determine whether microbial activity in soils taken from arctic Sweden acclimates to changes in temperature. After cooling, respiration rates showed no signs of recovery. Rather, many days after temperatures were reduced, respiration rates in the cooled soils continued to decline steeply, with no such response being observed in soils maintained at a warmer temperature. So the effect of cooling was amplified over time. It appears that the soil microbes were responding to the colder temperatures by further reducing activity. Looking at this in reverse, a more active microbial community survived at higher temperatures; so microbial community responses enhanced the effect of temperature on decomposition rates. This phenomenon has not been observed before, and we do not know how prevalent it might be. By extending our work to soils sampled from different ecosystems and at sites ranging from the high Arctic to the Mediterranean, our grant proposal aims to investigate how important soil microbial community responses to temperature are in controlling decomposition rates in European soils. We will determine whether acclimation occurs or whether microbial community responses generally enhance respiratory responses to temperature. We will also investigate how the overall response is controlled. Our project will improve understanding of how global warming will affect decomposition rates in soils, and allow more accurate predictions of rates of 21st century climate change to be made.
ERADACS is a novel, multi-disciplinary project that brings together: - a light-weight but powerful forecast system, state-of-the-art land surface data assimilation using NASA soil moisture data - new methods for visualizing and communicating forecasts, co-developed with farmers in Africa - socioeconomic studies on building resilience through early warning and incentivizing action on forecasts The project will be led by the University of Reading and carried out in partnership the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), a leading Ghanaian university; and Evidence for Development, a well-established NGO. The impact of agricultural drought on the world's poorest communities can be devastating. Changes in weather patterns due to changing climate can mean that decisions about when to plant and how to manage crops based on experience of weather in recent years are not reliable. Timely forecasts of the developing likelihood of agricultural drought have the potential to have a significant positive impact on the lives of small-scale farmers and their surrounding communities during such events. The ERADACS project will develop a forecast system for agricultural drought using multiple streams of satellite data, the Met Office land surface model (JULES) and state-of-the-art mathematical techniques (Data Assimilation) to combine these. The resulting forecast will use climatological information from the 30 year TAMSAT data record to predict likely trajectories of rainfall. These seasonal forecasts will be produced across Ghana and made available openly via the TAMSAT website. Beyond the lifetime of the ERADACS project we will sustain the forecast system via the operational TAMSAT platform. A key aspect of the ERADACS project will be a pilot of how this information might be useful to specific communities in Ghana that are reliant on subsistence farming practices. We will visit and collect socioeconomic information from a number of communities to establish their vulnerability to agricultural drought as well as using serious game play to elicit likely responses. Our forecasts, and their likely uncertainties, will be discussed with the farmers and we will trial different methods of presenting this data. We will use feedback from these groups to refine the means of communication and to tailor the information produced from the forecast system. The work in Ghana will be carried out by KNUST and Evidence for Development, both of whom have many years experience of capacity building in Africa.