In March 2021, the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme “Genomic Basis of Evolutionary Innovations (GEvol)” (SPP 2349). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the first three-year funding period.

Background and Goals
New experimental and computational techniques provide exciting opportunities to study the evolutionary history of genomes using comparative genomics. These new tools help to reconstruct the emergence of new traits from an integrated, phylogenomic perspective, far beyond the limited perspective of individual model species.

The goal of the Priority Programme is to exploit new methods to reveal in the insect taxon the role of: coding vs. regulatory changes, transposable elements, epigenetic regulation, gene family evolution, copy number dynamics, structural genomic rearrangements etc. in trait evolution by using multiple cutting edge quantitative OMICs resources (e.g. genomics, transcriptomics and epigenomics). Eventually, the emerging hypotheses shall be tested by functional genetics experiments where possible.

Insects are the most species rich class of metazoans with a huge variation in various traits making them the ideal system to investigate general principles of the evolutionary dynamics underlying major innovations based on a comparative genomics framework. To achieve these goals, researchers from various disciplines such as genomics, bioinformatics, evolutionary ecology, molecular evolution, developmental biology, theoretical biology, taxonomy and genetics will work together.

Specifically, we solicit proposals that use a genome wide comparative approach to reveal the genomic dynamics, which underlie the evolution of novel traits. Such traits may include, but are not limited to: gain and loss of sociality or mating systems; evolution of complex systems of communication, interaction, defense and immunity; developmental and morphological innovations or phenotypic plasticity.

We do not encourage projects focusing on single-genes and/or single-organisms, nor studies and approaches with a strong focus on ecological, taxonomic, comparative physiology, population genetics or short-term adaptation. Comparative RNA-seq studies are welcome, provided they compare multiple species and complement other OMICs data (which may exist or are generated in companion projects).

Structure and organisation
To enable a tightly-knitted network of collaborations, projects must target insects (but may also cover arthropod outgroups, e.g. spiders, for comparison). Exploratory studies, simulations and modelling are explicitly encouraged. Wherever possible, functional genomics (e.g. ATAC-seq, single-cell sequencing, spatial transcriptomics) and/or functional testing of emerging hypotheses using RNAi and/or genome editing should be considered for this or the subsequent round of funding.

To accomplish coherence and coordination, core projects in the Priority Programme will provide bioinformatics support and training, in particular in the areas of: genomic innovations (e.g. gene family evolution, novel genes, novel motifs, chromosome birth and death, etc.), the evolution and diversity of epigenetic regulation (e.g. methylation, histone modification, etc.)

All applicants are strongly encouraged to liaise in tandem projects, for instance by teaming up a rather experimental group with a computational/theoretical group. Purpose of this approach is to propagate and catalyse the usage of novel and cutting edge computational and experimental techniques across groups and, eventually, the whole German research landscape.

Applicants will need to make a statement (cover letter) how they are planning to contribute to the training of early career scientists in comparative and evolutionary genome analyses (and other OMICs). Also, successful applicants will be expected to engage in establishing a coherent German insect genomics community, which will be linked to a thriving international landscape.

Projects may request a substantial amount of funding for sequencing when justified by the scope and quality of the project and its relevance for the entire programme. Researchers considering to request sequencing costs in the range of range of €100,000 to €1 million may consider the 2022 call “Sequencing Costs in Projects” (to be announced). Projects successful in this call can be affiliated to the Priority Programme. The programme strives to attract the best projects on its topic by a diverse group of principal investigators. Within the programme, measures are in place to promote gender equality and to help researchers combine career and family. Female researchers and early career researchers are strongly encouraged to submit a proposal.

Potential applicants are kindly asked to send an abstract of the intended project(s) (applicant(s), preliminary title, abstract of 1500 characters max.) via email to the coordination office (see links below) by 21 June 2021 at the latest. To allow for mutual information and coordination among applicants, these short summaries will be compiled and made available to all applicants by the coordination office. For more information, please see the Priority Programme’s website (see link below).

Proposal instructions
Proposals must be written in English and submitted to the DFG by 17 November 2021. Please note that proposals can only be submitted via elan, the DFG’s electronic proposal processing system. To enter a new project within the existing Priority Programme, go to Proposal Submission – New Project/Draft Proposal – Priority Programmes and select “SPP 2349” from the current list of calls.

In preparing your proposal, please review the programme guidelines (form 50.05, section B) and follow the proposal preparation instructions (form 54.01). These forms can either be downloaded from our website or accessed through the elan portal. In addition to submitting your proposal through elan, please send an electronic copy (including your cover letter) to the programme coordinator (see CONTACTS section).

Applicants must be registered in elan prior to submitting a proposal to the DFG. If you have not yet registered, please note that you must do so by 3 November 2021 to submit a proposal under this call; registration requests received after this time cannot be considered. You will normally receive confirmation of your registration by the next working day. Note that you will be asked to select the appropriate Priority Programme call during both the registration and the proposal process.

The reviewing process will include a colloquium with presentations and discussions between applicants and reviewers, presently scheduled to take place in the second week of March 2022. The date and location of the colloquium (depending on the Corona situation, etc.) will be communicated to all applicants in due course. The envisaged start of funding is early summer 2022.

The coordination team will support and integrate approaches, in particular in the areas of comparative genomics and OMICS techniques (all members), innovations (Bornberg-Bauer), evolution of epigenetic mechanisms (Feldmeyer) and experimental functional testing (Bucher).