Evolution in Action: Environment, Agriculture and Human Disease

Leader: Kentaro Shimizu (EBES), Partners: Frank Rühli (IEM), Michael Krützen (AIM), Beat Keller (IPMB), Thomas Wicker (IPMB), Ralf Schlapbach (FGCZ), Andreas Wagner (EBES), Wolf Blanckenhorn (EBES), Barbara Tschirren (EBES), Barbara König (EBES)

Summary and Scientific Questions

 Evolution is the driving force behind all forms of life and thus has a major impact on environment, agriculture, and human health in an artificially and naturally changing world. It has been difficult to detect evolution in action, because of the difficulty to link the variability in phenotype to that in DNA sequence. We will study evolution in action at the molecular level by detecting the frequency of sequence changes using next-generation sequencing (NGS). We will address general questions such as how rapidly and frequently evolutionary novelty occurs in changing environments, what kind of mutations contribute to rapid evolution, and whether standing variation plays a major role. In order to find general patterns, we will focus on recent rapid changes in host-pathogen interaction and in the formation of new species in Switzerland and world-wide. Understanding such general patterns will reveal the molecular basis of rapid evolution and thus be essential for predicting future evolutionary trajectories to improve agriculture and human health, and to respond to a changing climate. Six PhD Projects will address the following specific questions:

  • How have virulence genes evolved within streptococci and herpes viruses, and can these changes be connected to selective pressures caused by particular human behaviors and events, such as the rise of agriculture, urbanism, and changes in modern diet?
  • Why is variation in Lyme disease resistance maintained in natural reservoir hosts?
  • How diverse are effector genes between and within different powdery mildew isolates, and how did powdery mildew adapt to new crop species?
  • How did new hybrid species acquire genotypic and phenotypic variability in 100 years since their emergence?
  • Are Swiss house mice (Mus musculus domesticus) that differ in chromosome arrangement speciating, and how important is female choice of mates with the same chromosomal type?
  • Are North American and European dung flies currently speciating by adaptation to different climates?