The Role of Environmental Drivers in Creating and Constraining Opportunities for Novel Gene Regulator Recruitment

Project: Research councilIndividual grant


How does the environment shape the architecture of genomes? The environment plays a key role in shaping gene regulatory networks (GRNs), with natural selection able to make adjustments to specific interactions. However, we do not yet understand the evolutionary processes that create and constrain opportunities for GRN adaptation and expansion. My research takes an interdisciplinary approach, combining experimental evolution with molecular genetic manipulations, bioinformatics and protein modelling to address central evolutionary questions within the context of GRN evolution.

Layman's description

All living things rely on thousands of genes working together to make their cells function. Many of these genes are organised into networks of numerous interacting genes. These genetic networks enable organisms to respond quickly to changes in the environment. While we have a good understanding of how genes within a network interact, we know less about how they form new interactions.
As networks evolve and expand they incorporate new genes with new functions. Natural selection will shape these interactions, resulting in gene networks that are most suited to the environment that the organism evolved in. As such, different environments have the potential to rewire gene networks differently, as different interactions will be advantageous in some environments and disadvantageous in others. In this way, the environment can create and constrain opportunities for new interactions to evolve. In this project, we will directly test this theory by evolving bacteria in real-time to explore how the environment can shape gene interactions, gene networks and genomes.
To investigate we will use bacteria, which can be easily stored and genetically manipulated in the laboratory. Their rapid generation times and large population sizes means evolution can occur very quickly. Plus, understanding what shapes the evolution of gene networks in simple organisms will provide greater insight into the overarching principles that may drive the evolution of all gene networks. Answering these big questions in biology will deepen our understanding of how complex organisms evolve and how life copes with environmental change.
Short title100,278
Effective start/end date1/12/1731/03/21