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Genetic architectures of adaptation

Organisms evolve in response to environmental variation through morphological, physiological and behavioural adaptations. Each phenotype has an underlying genetic network, which is defined as its genetic architecture. Intrinsic to genetic networks are epigenetic modifications that dynamically change gene expression. The outcome of genetic networks is influenced by internal and external factors, such that the same genotypes may produce different phenotypes in different environments (phenotypic and developmental plasticity). Genetic variation occurring within this architecture is subjected to selection, allowing for adaptation to a changing environment. New insights and developments in genomics enable us to investigate complex gene interaction networks underlying phenotypes, and characterize the extent of genetic variation in these networks. Combining these innovative tools with the functional genetics approaches allows us to unravel the genetic architecture of adaptations.

To understand the molecular mechanisms of the adaptive capacity of organisms in a fast changing world, it is imperative to tackle the complexity of the genetic architectures of traits and adaptations. We do this both through experimental approaches, and by studying the natural variation within and among populations. Also, understanding the significance of the many genetic differences among individuals can lead to new opportunities for disease detection, treatment or prevention. Thus, there is a strong need to study the genetic architecture of adaptive phenotypes, to uncover the mechanisms that allow this architecture to influence phenotypes and to understand the evolution and evolvability of the genetic architecture of different traits.


Bregje Wertheim, Jean-Christophe Billeter

Last modified:27 July 2017 09.42 a.m.