CORDIS - EU research results

Replaying the ‘genome duplication’ tape of life: the importance of polyploidy for adaptation in a changing environment

Project description

Unravelling the role of stress in the evolution of polyploidy

Despite the existence of many polyploid species, whole genome duplications (WGDs) are not evident in their genome. The consensus is that WGDs have contributed to polyploid species but took place at specific times during evolution under stressful conditions or environmental changes. The EU-funded DOUBLE-TROUBLE project wishes to address why environmental changes affect polyploidy and is working under the hypothesis that polyploid species have a survival or fitness advantage compared to non-polyploids. Scientists will run evolutionary experiments, and combined with modelling, they will decipher the adaptive potential of polyploids under stressful conditions or during times of climate change.


Thousands of species are polyploid. However, the long-term establishment of organisms that have undergone ancient whole genome duplications (WGDs) has been exceedingly rare and when we analyse the genomes of plants and animals, we can, at most, find evidence for a very limited number of WGDs that survived on the longer term. The paucity of (established) ancient genome duplications and the existence of so many species that are currently polyploid provides a fascinating paradox. There is growing evidence that the majority of ancient WGDs were established at specific times in evolution, for instance during periods of environmental change and periods of mass-extinction. The reason for this ‘stress’-polyploidy relationship has been the subject of considerable speculation and several hypotheses have been put forward to explain this observation: (a) stressful conditions promote polyploid formation; (b) polyploidisation causes a niche shift allowing polyploids to grow in conditions that are unsuitable for their non-polyploid ancestors; and (c) polyploids have an increased evolvability and consequently adapt faster to a changing environment. Here, we want to unravel the mechanistic underpinnings of why and how polyploids can outcompete non-polyploids. We will address these questions by replaying the ‘genome duplication tape of life’ in two different model systems, namely Chlamydomonas and Spirodela. We will run long-term evolutionary (and resequencing) experiments. We will complement these experiments with in-silico experiments based on so-called digital organisms running on artificial genomes. Complementary modelling approaches will also be employed to study the effects of polyploidy from an eco-evolutionary dynamics perspective. By integrating the results obtained from these in vivo and in silico experiments, we will obtain important novel insights in the adaptive potential of polyploids under stressful conditions or during times of environmental and/or climate change.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 2 500 000,00

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Vlaams Gewest Prov. Oost-Vlaanderen Arr. Gent
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 2 500 000,00

Beneficiaries (1)