Paper of the week: wasps make flies like booze

This week’s paper of the week shows that female Drosophila change their oviposition behaviour in the presence of parasitoids, placing eggs in more alcoholic media that reduces parasitoid attack. This shows that wasps can drive other animals to alcohol…

Kacsoh et al (2013) Fruit flies medicate offspring after seeing parasites. Science 339: 947-950.

PhD opportunities

There are still funding opportunities for PhD applicants wishing to join us for a PhD in insect behavioural ecology. I am interested in hearing from any prospective candidates that have ideas for their own project; alternatively, please go to our Opportunities page for details of a project looking at post-copulatory sexual selection and speciation in our bugs. The closing date for this round of applications will be 30th April 2013.

Paper of the week: lost in the map

This week’s paper of the week is by Michael Travisano and Ruth Shaw and provides a critique of current explorations of the “genotype-phenotype map”. In particular, the authors question how much we are really learning from the recent enthusiasms for high-throughput molecular genetic studies in evolutionary biology. Hopefully some of our work at the moment will help us answer what we can learn from a detailed molecular genetic analysis of adaptive, whole-organism phenotypes.

Travisano & Shaw (2013) Lost in the map. Evolution 67: 305-314.

New PhD to join us in the autumn

Georgina Glaser will join the lab in the autumn on a BBSRC-funded studentship exploring rational and irrational decision-making in hummingbirds and Nasonia wasps. Georgina will be jointly supervised by Dave and also Sue Healy. We look forward to welcoming Georgina later in the year.

Paper of the week: a critique of ENCODE

This week’s paper of the week is perhaps an add choice for a behavioural ecology lab, but it is relevant for the broader question about the scope of adaptation across genomes and so the reach of natural selection. There has been substantial debate about the extent to which non-coding regions of genomes are influenced by selection, and to what extent they evolve by drift (e.g. the recent book by Mike Lynch for one side of the argument). A key part of this debate is the extent of non-functional, or “junk” DNA in genomes. For many organisms, including humans, junk DNA has been thought to dominate genomes. However, the recent ENCODE project (basically, looking for functional elements in the human genome) has suggested that up to 80% of the genome is “functional” and that the age of “junk DNA” is over. As such, far more of our genome may be under selection than we thought. However, the paper by Dan Graur and colleagues just published in Genome Biology and Evolution demolishes that argument. It is a paper that pulls no punches (and has made mainstream media in the UK, such as a piece in The Observer). The extent to which all those punches hit home can be debated, but it nonetheless challenges very strongly the presentation and associated rhetoric of the ENCODE project (for the lead ENCODE paper go here). The Graur et al critique is especially welcome to me as I have been surprised at the level of scepticism amongst the population genetics community since the ENCODE papers were published; Graur et al provide a way in to the debate (salted with many a pithy comment). Whilst not the last word about the role of natural selection in shaping genome architecture, this paper, and the debate that will no doubt follow, provides a useful corrective.

Graur et al 2013 On the immortality of television sets: “function” in the human genome according to the evolution-free gospel of ENCODE. Genome Biology and Evolution, in press.