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Molecular Mechanisms of Adaptation and Speciation

Felicity Jones

Felicity Jones

  • PhD studies at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh, UK 2000-2005
  • Postdoctoral training in the Department of Developmental Biology, Stanford University, USA 2007-2012
  • Max Planck Research Group Leader at the FML since 2012

Research Interest

Many species evolve as a result of divergent natural selection. The threespine stickleback fish is an excellent organism to study the molecular mechanisms of adaptation and speciation: we can combine natural population and laboratory studies and draw on a suite of genetic and genomic tools, including transgenic manipulations. By having evolved divergent ecotypes towards incipient speciation in parallel, stickleback populations provide powerful biological replicates, which we leverage to study this process across both space and time.

We have previously used population genomics to identify candidate genomic regions underlying adaptive divergence of stickleback species-pairs. Since few genes are universally adaptive, gene–gene and gene–environmental interactions exert a large impact on an organism's fitness. Many of these genes are non-coding and in regions of suppressed recombination, but the specific molecular changes and their phenotypic and fitness effects are unknown. Our research will focus on three aspects: 1) We aim to genetically dissect and functionally test adaptive mutations using techniques such as QTL mapping and transgenics; 2) molecularly dissect and test predictions that selection favours suppressed recombination; and 3) using population genetic analyses of hybrid zones to create a genome-wide map of selection coefficients to understand how the genomic architecture of fitness shapes the evolution of new species.

Selected Reading

1) Jones FC, Grabherr MG, Chan YF, Russell P et al. (2012b) The genomic basis of adaptive evolution in threespine sticklebacks.  Nature 484, 55-61.

2) Jones FC, Chan YF, Schmutz J, Grimwood J et al. (2012a) A genome-wide SNP genotyping array reveals patterns of global and repeated species-pair divergence in sticklebacks.  Current Biology 22, 83-90.

3) Chan YF, Marks ME, Jones FC, Villarreal Jr G et al. (2010) Adaptive Evolution of pelvic reduction in sticklebacks by recurrent deletion of a Pitx1 enhancer.  Science 327, 302-305.
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The recent adaptive radiation of the threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) has resulted in parallel divergence and reproductive isolation among ecotypes, making it an excellent model for studying adaptation and speciation. Photo credit:  Y. Frank Chan
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Our optimized transgenic technique enables functional testing of candidate genes in different populations. Here we visualize the developing heart of a threespine stickleback embryo using green fluorescent protein. Photo credit: Felicity Jones