Lacewing Venom: Linking molecular and phenotypic evolution

About the project

Understanding the ability of species to adapt to environmental changes, or their evolvability, is central to evolutionary biology, which aims to understand the processes that shape life on earth. It is also an increasingly important aspect of conservation biology, given the challenges presented by anthropogenic climate change and habitat destruction. Most traits are complex in that their phenotype results from the contributions of many genes, and it is the variance of these additive genes that determines the short-term evolvability of a species. While several tools exist for determining additive genetic variance of complex traits, identifying adaptations at the molecular level remains a major challenge. This impacts our understanding of the genetic mechanisms that underlie adaptation and calls for models that enable the integration of quantitative and molecular genetics.

Venoms represent particularly well-suited model systems for examining the evolution of complex traits. Unlike many other phenotypic traits, where the link between genetic and phenotypic evolution is lost in the underlying genetic complexity, venom phenotypes result from the combined action of a relatively small number of secreted proteins that can be easily identified, characterised, and selectively enriched/depleted. The selective advantage and role of venoms are also generally well defined, and can be broadly recapitulated in the laboratory as toxicity against model organisms.

This project will use an innovative, highly multidisciplinary approach to for the first time examine the evolution of venom as a complex trait. This will lead to new insight into the evolution of venoms, and is likely to result in discovery of novel bioactive molecules with potential for development into pesticides and drugs. It will also facilitate establishing venom as a model trait that allows for integration of quantitative and molecular genetics, thus addressing a major methodological challenge in evolutionary biology.

Objectives

The overarching goals of this project are to provide the first understanding of the micro- and macroevolution of venom as a complex character, and to establish venom as a model trait that allows for integration of both quantitative and molecular genetics in examining the evolution of complex traits. To achieve these goals, the project combines, for the first time, cutting-edge omics and molecular evolution techniques with modern quantitative genetics analyses to  study the evolution of venom. This multidisciplinary  approach  will  result in the establishment  of new paradigms in our understanding  of the functional evolution of venoms and their toxins.

Financing

This project is funded by the Research Council of Norway (RCN) through the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

RCN Project Number: 287462 (Project data bank at RCN)

UiO Project Number: 190828

Period

01.06.2019 - 30.11.2022

Published Dec. 29, 2020 4:26 PM - Last modified Feb. 2, 2021 10:13 AM