How has the diversity of life on earth arisen, over the course of billions of years? How have species adapted to alterations in their environment? And how do they change nowadays? Evolutionary biology seeks to answer these questions. Evolution happens in every biological system, and understanding the evolutionary mechanisms is key to answer any biological question. Traditionally, evolutionary biology has been based on measures of phenotypic change, with genetic change inferred from statistical patterns. The “genomic revolution” is opening entirely new approaches to address questions in evolutionary biology. Over the course of a decade, sequencing technologies have become so fast and affordable that the genetic variability of entire genomes and of many individuals can be directly studied.
The URPP Evolution started out in 2013 to bring together researchers at the University of Zurich with a common interest of applying these novel genomic technologies to evolutionary questions. Among our members are evolutionary biologists, plant scientists, molecular biologists, medical scientists, bioinformaticians, and linguists, distributed across different departments, faculties, and locations. Our aim has been to integrate this disparate community from various disciplines with their own traditions and ways of thinking.
During Phase I (2013-2016), 14 research projects were ongoing within the larger framework of five interdisciplinary research themes. Moreover, a total of 22 Pilot Projects – granted in an open call procedure for PhD students and postdocs – were completed by the end of 2016.
During Phase II (2017- 2020), the URPP Evolution hosted four independent research groups:
- Plant Evolutionary Ecology, PI Academic Fellow Dr. Matthew Horton
- Plant Evolutionary Genomics, PI Assistant Professor Prof. Dr. Anne Roulin
- Paleogenetics, PI Assistant Professor Prof. Dr. Verena Schünemann (co-funded by the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine)
- Statistical Genomics, PI Associate Professor Prof. Dr. Mark Robinson (co-funded by the Department of Molecular Life Sciences)
Research was also performed in 15 collaborative projects centered around six focus topics. In three open calls for Pilot Projects, a total of 28 projects was funded.
During Phase III (2021-2024), the URPP Evolution will continue the activities that have proven successful in creating an integrated research community, and focus on aspects that will consolidate the achievements beyond its duration. While the program’s funding for the Academic Fellow, the Assistant Professor in Paleogenetics, and the Associate Professor ended with Phase II, the Assistant Professorship in Plant Evolutionary Genomics is continued in Phase III. The research profile of the URPP Evolution will be sharpened with a focus on diversification and adaptation, specifically the topics of pathogen and host co-evolution, polyploidy and epigenetics, and experimental evolution and modeling, which will allow both the follow-up of successful research ideas and the integration of upcoming new topics and approaches. In addition, at least one open call for pilot projects will be issued.