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Deciphering adaptive footprints of epiC evolution on different timescales

Project description

The evolution of epigenetic modifications and their role in species adaptation

Epigenetic modifications are chemical modifications on histones and DNA and play a central role in gene expression regulation. However, little is known about how these modifications change in the course of evolution. The EU-funded DECAF project will use DNA methylation as a model and investigate stably methylated genetic sites in the avian genome. Scientists are also interested to understand and determine the selective forces acting on DNA methylation diversity in natural populations. Results will help unveil the role of methylated sites in species differentiation and provide unprecedented information on epigenetically driven adaptation.


Epigenetics plays a fundamental role in the function and regulation of the genome. From an evolutionary viewpoint, a pressing question is whether epigenetic modifications are a source of adaptive variation. To answer this question substantial attention is being given to the epigenetic marks themselves, but surprisingly little is known about the evolutionary underpinnings of the genomic sites that anchor them. Using novel analytical and technical approaches, I want to address this fundamental knowledge gap. I will use the best understood epigenetic mark, DNA methylation, as a model and advance on recent findings in avian genome evolution, epigenetic inheritance and sequencing technology. This will enable me to pinpoint signatures of epigenetically driven adaptation. I have designed separate approaches at three different levels: (1) At the individual level, to identify stably methylated anchors in the avian germline with focus on a recently discovered germline-specific chromosome, (2) at the population level, to establish the selective forces acting on DNA methylation diversity in natural populations and (3) at the species level, to gain insight into how fast-mutating anchors of DNA methylation act as potential facilitators of species differentiation and barriers. Ultimately, by combining these three levels I will be able to pinpoint epigenetic anchors that are involved in molecular adaptation. The possible research outcomes will not only be valuable to evolutionary biologists and ecologists, but will also make fundamental contributions to molecular biology and possibly medical research, and will deepen our understanding of how epigenetic marks manifest themselves at the sequence level.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 078 828,49
44227 Dortmund

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Nordrhein-Westfalen Arnsberg Dortmund, Kreisfreie Stadt
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 078 828,49

Beneficiaries (2)