There are compelling reasons to believe that many underlying genomic, cellular, developmental and ecological processes are genome-size dependent. Plants with large genomes are at greater risk of extinction, less adaptable to living in polluted soils, and less able to tolerate extreme environmental conditions, clearly demonstrating that genome size has ecological consequences which shape the distribution and persistence of biodiversity. This proposal addresses the mechanisms behind the dynamics of genome expansion, which in the plant genus Fritillaria includes species with giant (obese) genomes, at least 150-fold larger than model species such as Arabidopsis thaliana. We are profoundly ignorant of how their genomes expand. Until recently, the sheer scale of the task of understanding genome obesity was too daunting to address. But now that impediment is largely overcome thanks to the astonishing advances in next generation sequencing methods (NGS). This proposal exploits NGS along with complementary methodologies that survey entire genomes to provide insights into the evolutionary dynamics of genome obesity. We will test hypotheses that examine whether there are unusual or novel epigenetic events (i.e. siRNA, cytosine methylation, histone modifications) that contribute to the evolution of genome obesity. Lu Ma brings expertise in cytogenetics and immunocytochemistry, a skill set he will enhance during the Fellowship through the training received in the Leitch Laboratory. This will considerably enhance Lu Ma’s career prospects since he will emerge highly proficient in skills needed to analyse NGS data, an area where there is currently an acute shortage of trained scientists, despite the importance of NGS approaches in the future of modern biosciences. Overall, the Fellowship will enhance collaboration between European laboratories and lead to an increased understanding of how genome obesity impacts on the biodiversity we see around us.
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