Adaptation is the key concept in Evolutionary Biology. Understanding adaptation has important implications for basic and applied science since adaptation underlies processes such as the ability of species to survive in changing environments, resistance to antibiotics and cancer chemotherapies, and host-pathogen interactions. The recent increase in availability of whole genome sequences makes it possible to search for evidence of adaptation on an unprecedented scale. However, current approaches to the study of adaptation are often exclusively based on a priori candidate genes or on searching for signals of selection at the DNA level giving us a biased and incomplete picture of the adaptive process.
The long-term goal of my research is to understand the molecular process of adaptation and its functional consequences. Towards this end, I will focus on the study of recent transposable element (TE)-induced adaptations in Drosophila melanogaster, which I have already shown to be common and readily detectable. I will apply a multidisciplinary approach in which I will combine genomics, population genetics, computational biology, molecular biology and experimental evolution. I will apply this integrative strategy to putatively adaptive mutations identified in populations from well-described contrasting climates, which will provide an ecological context to the identified mutations facilitating their functional characterization. Specifically, I will (i) identify putatively adaptive mutations in four nature-derived European populations with well-described contrasting climates; (ii) analyze their population genetics and evolutionary history; (iii) connect the adaptive mutations to changes in molecular function; and (iv) connect these changes to organismal phenotype and fitness. To accomplish these objectives I will use state-of-the-art techniques such as next-generation sequencing, allele-specific expression analysis, and computational pipelines.
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