"How robust phenotypes evolve despite developmental noise remains unclear. Individuals from natural populations usually display more stable phenotypes than laboratory mutants and hybrids. This suggests that there are genetic mechanisms that stabilize phenotypes and that these differ between isolated populations. We want to address here an unexplored yet fundamental question in biology: how does a stable phenotype appear during evolution? We will focus on the evolution of a new genital sensory organ pattern in Drosophila santomea. We aim to better characterize the molecular mechanisms that stabilize this recently evolved phenotype. Our goal is three-fold: (1) characterize and compare the development of these structures in D. santomea and its closely-related species, (2) identify the underlying genes and mutations that act collectively to produce a robust phenotype in pure species, and (3) unveil the selective forces at play on this evolved phenotype. Our combination of various powerful approaches in a tractable model system should provide important insights and concrete molecular data on phenotypic robustness and evolution. My PhD on Drosophila sensory organ development and my post-doc on the delicate genetics of Drosophila evolution have placed me in a unique position to successfully tackle this far-reaching research program."
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