Testing big evolutionary hypotheses with small organisms

01 October 2014 → 30 September 2017
Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund
Research disciplines
  • Natural sciences
    • Other biological sciences
    • Other natural sciences
evolutionary hypotheses
Project description

Polyploids, organisms that underwent a whole genome duplication (WGD), possess one extra copy

of their genome, which is free to evolve new functionality. Many WGDs are accordingly found in

very successful eukaryotic lineages characterized by particular biological innovations and/or

diversifications. However, the possession of two complete genomes is generally not well tolerated

by cells leading to harmful effects on the overall fitness and fertility of the organism. This results in

a paradox between the observed immediate negative effects of WGD, and their attributed longterm

positive effects.

In previous work, we found that many plant polyploids became established during the last mass

extinction event. Present-day polyploids are also more abundant in stressful environments such as

the Arctic. We therefore hypothesize that stress can enhance polyploid establishment, because

their plastic phenotypes and genotypes can enable rapid adaptive changes that allow survival. To

test this hypothesis, we propose an evolutionary experiment based on a unicellular green algal

model system. First, we will artificially create polyploid strains and subject them to a wide variety

of stressors to quantify their survival. Second, we will select the most successful polyploid

populations and sequence their complete genomes every few generations to identify the genomic

features that allow their success. Such an experiment will significantly contribute to our

understanding of polyploid organisms.