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Molecular trade-offs between adaptation to salinity and immunity in three-spined sticklebacks

Project description

Insight into the adaptive evolution of marine organisms in response to environmental changes

The three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) is an important model organism for evolutionary biologists researching the genetic changes involved in adapting to new environments. The EU-funded EPI-TRADEOFF project will use G. aculeatus from the Baltic Sea to study the change in ocean salinity and the associated alteration in the parasite community resulting from climate change. The initiative will identify the osmoregulation–immunity trade-offs mediated by DNA methylation to shed light on the interactions of methylation within gene clusters as well as their expression. The data generated will be used to test the introduction of trade-offs by both infection and salinity changes in G. aculeatus, increasing our knowledge of the mechanisms underlying phenotypic plasticity in marine organisms and their influence on adaptive evolution.


Climate change and its consequences on the oceans represent major challenges for marine species, which either need to migrate to remain in their optimal niche or need to adapt to avoid extinction. While the genetics and genomics of adaptation are well studied to predict the future state of marine biodiversity, major gaps remain about the role and mechanisms of phenotypic plasticity within and across generations. Particularly, climate change is multifold and non-parallel stressors limit evolution: indeed, organisms cannot allocate infinite resources into all responses, and trade-offs therefore emerge. Because stressors are often investigated in isolation, our overall understanding of molecular trade-offs is limited. In this project, we will study the impact of two major concomitant challenges induced by climate change, namely the change in ocean salinity and the associated change in the parasite community. We will use the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) fish from the Baltic Sea, which has been coined a “time machine” because of its rapid salinity change mimicking the future of the oceans. We will investigate the osmoregulation-immunity trade-offs mediated by DNA methylation. After identifying these trade-offs, we will use a network approach to shed lights on the interactions of methylation within gene clusters, and their expression (RNA-seq). We will use data generated by the hosting group on (1) natural populations of the Baltic Sea and (2) experimental acclimation to salinity, completed by a common garden experiment testing the induction of trade-offs by both parasite infection and salinity change. This project will advance our understanding of the mechanisms of phenotypic plasticity in marine organisms and their consequences on adaptive evolution.



Net EU contribution
€ 212 933,76
327 mile end road
E1 4NS London
United Kingdom

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London Inner London — East Tower Hamlets
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00