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The research theme at MaBS is the mathematical biology of evolution. Evolution is the unifying theory of the biological sciences, and our aim is to design advanced mathematical methods and models that account for the biological complexity involved in most evolutionary processes. Complexity arises on all levels of biological organization: molecular, organismal, and ecological. The key issues of evolutionary research, such as adaptation and speciation, are usually addressed in special sub-disciplines for each of these levels, i.e. molecular population genetics, quantitative genetics, and evolutionary ecology. We work on all three fields with the special goal to create an integrative approach, with a combination of models, concepts, and methods. Recent projects range from the evolution of pre- and postzygotic genetic barriers in models of parapatric speciation (speciation with gene-flow) to the study of selective sweeps and so-called footprints of selection in DNA sequence variation.
Our work is concerned with the construction of mathematical models for eco-evolutionary processes. To this end, we use a wide range of analytical and computational approaches. Analytical methods combine deterministic modeling approaches based on differential equations and dynamical systems theory and probabilistic approaches based on stochastic processes and probability theory. We use large-scale computer simulations to extend our model predictions beyond analytically tractable cases. Finally, we develop statistical tools to test model predictions and to infer evolutionary processes from patterns in DNA sequence data.
Joachim Hermisson studied Physics and Philosophy in Tübingen and Göttingen and did a PhD on Quantum Phase Transitions before he switched to model Real Life. After a postdoc with Gunter Wagner at Yale, Joachim started his own junior research group in Munich in 2002. Since October 2007 he in Vienna, where he holds a joint professorship at the Mathematics Department and at MFPL.
How does a complex trait adapt to a new selection pressure? Does selection lead to large changes in the allele frequency at few loci or rather to subtle changes at very many loci underlying the trait? These conflicting views emerge from molecular population genetics and quantitative genetics, the two main traditions of evolutionary research. In a recent model, we bridge this divide and demonstrate the conditions under which each "adaptive narrative" provides a valid approximation to biological reality.
Recent research has shown that adaptive gene flow between related species that can still interbreed is an important source for new adaptations in many animal and plant species. Typically, detection of such adaptive introgression events relies on comparative analyses and requires DNA sequence data from both the recipient and the donor species. However, in many cases, the donor may not be known or the data are not available. We therefore developed VolcanoFinder, a genome-scan method to detect adaptive introgression from polymorphism data of the recipient species only. Applying this method to detect archaic introgression in human populations, we identified several candidate genes in both African and European populations.
Can reinforcement complete speciation?
Bank C., Hermisson J. and Kirkpatrick, M.
Evolution of functional specialization and division of labor.
Rueffler Claus, Hermisson Joachim, Wagner Günter P.
Genome-wide patterns of genetic variation in worldwide Arabidopsis thaliana accessions from the RegMap panel
Horton,Matthew W., Hancock, Angela M., Huang, Yu S., Toomajian, Christopher, Atwell, Susanna, Auton, Adam,Muliyati,N Wayan, Platt, Alexander,Sperone,F Gianluca, Wilhjálmsson,Bjarni J,Nordborg,Magnus, Borevitz, Justin O, Bergelson, Joy.
MaBS is co-funded by a research grant of the Vienna Science and Technology Fund WWTF.