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Evolution of selfish genetic elements in fungi
Selfish genetic elements are widespread in all groups of organisms. They are likely to have shaped the evolution of diverse biological systems, including genome structure, sex determination, and meiosis. To date, surprisingly little is known about the exact processes that underlie the spread of these elements. This project focuses on selfish genetic elements that cause uniparental meiotic drive of supernumerary chromosomes in a fungal pathogen. Recently we could show that the supernumerary chromosome of the commercially important wheat pathogen Zymoseptoria tritici show a chromosome drive, i.e. are inherited to more progeny than expected by Mendelian segregation, and these chromosomes may therefore be considered selfish genetic elements. Interestingly this chromosome drive is restricted to chromosomes inherited from the female parent. We hypothesize that this drive is based on an additional amplification of unpaired chromosomes during meiosis. This project aims at understanding this previously unknown aspect of meiosis and its exploitation by selfish chromosomes using the model organism Z. tritici. It will involve the establishment of in vitro crosses and the identification of the genetic and epigentic traits responsinble for the chromosome amplification.
Elucidating crop-pathogen co-evolution by ancient DNA analysis (joint project with Almuth Nebel)
Genetic analyses of ancient DNA (aDNA) can greatly contribute to research questions about the evolution, domestication and geographical distribution of crops and their associated pathogens. The proposed project aims to investigate the origin and history of Neolithic waterlogged wheat and flax remains found in Swiss lakeshore settlements and other prehistoric sites in Europe to elucidate the complex evolution and diversity of land races. In addition, the project will also target fungal pathogens associated with these Neolithic crops. This project will be performed in collaboration with the Ancient DNA Research Group (see Prof. Nebel). The candidate will extract aDNA from archaeological plant material in a clean room and do in-depth computational analyses of the generated high-throughput sequencing data.