Variation: Development and Selection

Patrícia Beldade

Our Eco-Evo-Devo research combines concepts and approaches from different disciplines (notably, evolutionary and developmental biology, as well as ecology) to explore the mechanisms that shape phenotypic variation and adaptation.

Inter-individual variation is the raw material for natural selection, and a universal property of biological systems.

Understanding the mechanisms that generate and shape this variation is a key challenge in biological research, and of obvious relevance also in biomedicine.

What are the gene types, specific genes, and gene regions that contribute to evolutionarily relevant variation?

How do those genetic variants interact with environmental factors to regulate developmental trajectories and outcomes and account for phenotypic plasticity?

For the dissection of variation in complex, diversified, and ecologically-relevant phenotypes the lab uses two complementary models: Bicyclus anynana butterflies and Drosophila melanogaster flies.



The origin and modification of evolutionary novelties (i.e. lineage-specific, adaptive traits such as feathers in birds, carapaces in turtles and wing patterns in butterflies) is a key topic in evolutionary developmental biology. Recent studies have shown that lineage-restricted traits often arise by redeployment of shared regulatory circuitry. While there is no doubt that conserved developmental pathways can acquire new functions and be recruited for the formation of new traits, the contribution of genes restricted to specific lineages remains under-tested. In fact, the popular expression that assigns the evolution of novelties to “teaching old genes new tricks” might be biased by the standard approach which studies “shared genes” known in lab models, rather than identify and pursue “new ones” in non-models. This project will contribute to overcome this bias and specifically test the involvement of candidate novel (or highly diverged) new genes in the formation of butterfly wing color patterns (evolutionary novelties characteristic of lepidopterans and used in visual communication).