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Modelling the maintenance of an ancient polymorphism in the Arabidopsis thaliana - Pseudomonas syringae system


Plant R-genes involved in gene-or-gene interactions with pathogens are expected to undergo co-evolutionary arms races in which plant specificity and pathogen virulence continually adapt in response to each other. By contrast, molecular evolutionary studies on several Arabidopsis thaliana R-genes loci indicate a preponderance of ancient balanced polymorphisms, as illustrated by the Rpm1 gene conferring a resistance to the pathogen Pseudomonas syringae. Most models to describe the maintenance of polymorphisms in disease resistance genes assume that a fitness cost allows the persistence of alternative alleles. However, more complex models allow the maintenance of polymorphisms without this associated cost when spatial and temporal patterns in coevolving plant and pathogen associations are considered.

By modelling an A. thaliana - P.syringae metapopulation and exploring the importance of genotype specific fitness functions, the general aim of this proposal is to understand the forces important in explaining the lo ng lived Rpm1 polymorphism in A. thaliana. Combining stochastic models and fitness functions determined by the effects of the intensity (dosage) of P. syringae on the fitness of resistant and sensitive plants will lead to a realistic representation of the A. thaliana - P.syringae system.

If successful, it would be the first comprehensive investigation of the link between ecological genetics and dynamics, and long-term evolutionary processes (over millions of years). Elucidating the evolutionary dynamics in this well characterized plant-pathogen system is also expected to directly inform our understanding of other disease resistance polymorphisms, including human Major Histocompatibility Complex.

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