A new Priority Programme (SPP 2349) funded by German Science Foundation (DFG), starting 2022: "Genomic Basis of Evolutionary Innovations (GEvol)"

Official call (DFG) see also ABOUT section
Press release University Münster
Press release DFG

Background and Goals
1000s of eukaryotic genomes have become available for comparative and evolutionary analyses as sequencing is becoming constantly cheaper and more reliable. Accordingly, these cutting edge methods will soon become feasible standard tools even for small labs with basic infrastructure and without highly specialised expertise. Further innovations such as single-cell and spatial tran- scriptomics, chromatin conformation and detection of transcriptionally active DNA are just around the corner. Complemented by rapid progress in computational analysis, phylogenomic and de- mographic inference methods, it is now possible to reconstruct ancestral genome contents, infer successive major genomic variations as well as the ancestral protein sequences. This marriage between the burgeoning field of quantitative OMICs and computational genomics will undoubtedly accelerate the transformation of biosciences in general and of evolutionary biology in particular. Fundamental questions about the course and modes of evolution and the genomic variations underlying the emergence of novel traits can now be approached at unprecedented depth and breadth.

GEvol will exploit these new techniques for large-scale comparative analyses, simulations and modelling complemented by functional tests and thus transcend more traditional approaches centred around model species and singular molecular or cellular mechanisms. GEvol focuses on insects, the most species rich and phenotypically diverse group of metazoa with comparably small genomes and a large number of genomic resources available. However, the methods applied therein and the premises in combining and integrating OMICs data in a phylogenomic frame- work are generic and therefore also applicable to other organisms. Many of the questions asked in GEvol also relate to vertebrate and even human-specific research. Examples are social behaviour, communication, learning, ageing, (developmental) plasticity, and the evolution and ca- pacity of the immune system. In doing so, GEvol provides the unique opportunity to cross-fertilise across project and discipline boundaries, thus endowing young scientists to apply upcoming approaches to integrative biological questions which clearly transcend the horizon of insects or model species.

GEvol is unique as it will use, for the first time, a large taxonomic group to focus on one goal: to characterise the dynamics and mechanisms of genomic innovations underlying novel traits using comparative evolutionary genomics (and related data).
Thus, projects participating in GEvol we will ask fundamental evolutionary questions such as:
1. At what level is evolution repeatable? 2. How does genomic plasticity interfere with phenotypic plasticity during evolution? 3. How do inter- and intra-specific interactions influence genomic architectures? 4. How predictable is phenotypic variation given some knowledge about the dynamics and mechanisms of underlying genome evolution?

Insects have been intensively studied over decades to address all major questions in biology and many insects were among the very first multi-cellular eukaryotes to be sequenced. These insect model systems – and insects as a whole group – were and are perfectly suited to reconstruct genomic events which underlie phenotypic innovations - including those that make them devastating pests or vectors. Therefore, insects as a whole, are the perfect model system to study causes and effects of genome evolution over evolutionary very long time scales (i.e. 100s of my).

Specifically, projects will investigate the modes of genomic variations, such as:
• Repetitive elements are major drivers of genomic variations • Gene family dynamics supports specific adaptations. • Genome structure and rearrangements impact coupling and de-coupling of traits • Epigenetics supports rapid adaptations and affects gene regulation • Gene regulation has strong and rapid effects on adaptability.