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Integrative evolutionary biology

Ralf Sommer

Ralf Sommer

  • Diplom in Biology 1989, RWTH Aachen & University of Tübingen
  • PhD work 1989-92 at the Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich
  • Research fellow 1993-95 at California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA
  • Director at the MPI since 1999

Research Interest

Evolutionary biology studies the processes that generate phenotypic diversity throughout all domains of life. Initial mutations leading to phenotypic differences arise in single individuals and may be fixed in populations as a result of selection or drift and can ultimately result in speciation between divergent lineages. Our integrative approach to evolutionary biology combines comparative genomic and population genetic approaches with detailed functional studies to elucidate the evolution of genetic loci controlling various traits of interest in the nematode Pristionchus pacificus. This nematode has been established as a comparative model organism to the classical nematode model C. elegans.
 
Based on regular field trips to la Réunion in the Indian Ocean and ongoing world-wide efforts to find more species and strains of the genus Pristionchus, we have a huge collection of roughly 1,000 strains of P. pacificus strains and more than 30 Pristionchus species, which serves as a resource for population genomic analyses based on whole-genome sequencing to investigate speciation processes and for studying evolutionary processes that may lead to the generation of novel genes based on de novo assemblies of various Pristionchus genomes. In addition, the vast population genetic data in combination with detailed phylogenetic studies and various transcriptome profiling data obtained under different environmental conditions can be used to bioinformatically identify candidate genes that control important developmental decisions or play a role in the interactions with other microorganisms.

Selected Reading

1) Dieterich, C, Clifton, SW, Schuster, LN, Chinwalla, A, Delehaunty, K, Dinkelacker, I, Fulton, L, Fulton, R, Godfrey, J, Minx, P, Mitreva, M, Röseler, W, Tian, H., Witte, H, Yang, SP, Wilson, RK, Sommer, RJ (2008): The Pristionchus pacificus genome provides a unique perspective on nematode lifestyle and parasitism. Nature Genetics, 40, 1193-1198.
 
2) Ragsdale, EJ, Müller, MR, Rödelsperger, C & Sommer, RJ (2013): A developmental switch coupled to the evolution of plasticity acts through a sulfatase. Cell, 155, 922-933.
 
3) McGaughran, A, Rödelsperger, C, Grimm, DG, Meyer, JM, Moreno, E, Morgan, K, Leaver, M, Serobyan, V, Rakitsch, B, Borgwardt, KM & Sommer, RJ (2016): Genomic profiles of diversification and genotype-phenotype association in island nematode lineages. Mol Biol Evol., 33, 2257-2272.
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Phylogenetic relationships between more than 300 P. pacificus strains based on whole genome sequencing data
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RNA-seq data for a candidate pathway across multiple different environmental conditions