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Genome diversity and evolutionary and environmental biology

This theme integrates the fields of genomics, physiology and ecology to explore the interactions between populations, species, communities and the broader environment, on both contemporary and historical timescales. Research in this area also addresses practical issues such as improved breeding of agricultural crops, pollution mitigation and new anti-venom products.

Work under this theme includes:

  • answering fundamental evolutionary and ecological questions relating to the origins, levels, distribution and ecological significance of genetic variation in wild, captive and exploited populations through the application of molecular markers such as microsatellites, single nucleotide polymorphisms and sequence data

  • functionally analysing genomes, including application of transcriptomics and real-time PCR

  • understanding the effect of abiotic stress on population structure and function in aquatic and terrestrial species and ecosystems

  • developing predictive understanding of the mechanisms underlying variation in plant and animal phenotypes arising from changes to the structure and function of the genome, with the ultimate aim of establishing breeding programmes for crops that address the needs of climate change mitigation and adaptation, and food security

  • identification, characterisation and utilisation of novel alleles for deployment in knowledge-based breeding programmes that generate new traits and products


BEAA research in the field of genome diversity and environmental and evolutionary biology falls into two areas:

  • Research on plant genetics, genomics, phenomics, metabolomics, bioinformatics and breeding is funded through BBSRC Institute Strategic Programme grants led by Dr Ian Armstead and Professor John Doonan, with Professor John Draper. This area is also supported by individual BBSRC project grants including Molecular marker-assisted plant breeding on a genome wide scale (Dr Leif Skot); Genomics-assisted breeding for fatty acid content and composition in perennial ryegrass and Harnessing new technologies for sustainable oat production and utilisation (Dr Athole Marshall); A population genomics approach to accelerating the domestication of the energy grass Miscanthus (Dr Gancho Slavov). Professor John Witcombe leads on the application of crop breeding to meet global needs of food security, with funding from a range of sources including the Rockerfeller and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations via the AGRA programme.

  • Research on animal genetics, evolution and environmental biology has been funded by BBSRC including Flatworm DNA methylation: deciphering the mark and characterising the machinery, a project led by Professor Karl Hoffmann; Developing a 'validation portfolio' to exploit key virulence proteins in Fasciola species for parasite control (Professor Peter Brophy) and Limits to sustainable avian flight performance on the energetics of trans-Himalayan bird flight (Dr Charles Bishop); and by NERC through the grant Sequencing the meiofaunal metagenome of the marine/freshwater interface in key estuarine ecosystems (Dr Simon Creer in collaboration with Dr Simon Neill), which is enabling a step-change in understanding of biodiversity-ecosystem functioning in marine sediments. Research on the molecular ecology of fish species applied to the analysis of population structure and connectivity, evolution of adaptive variation, speciation (including determining the role of environmental change and ancient hybridisation in the generation of cichlid fish diversity), fisheries genetics and conservation, and traceability of fish and fish products, led by Professor Gary Carvalho, Professor George Turner and Professor Paul Shaw, has received extensive funding from the EU and is closely linked to the Consortium for the Barcode of Life. Innovative interdisciplinary research has included the project Impacts of Southern Ocean warming on marine connectivity: integrating oceanographic modelling with molecular ecology and developmental biology led by Professor Carvalho in collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey. Research into reptile genomics to develop public health provision of effective anti-venom to treat snakebites led by Dr Wolfgang Wuster has recently received new funding from the Leverhulme Trust.


Notable joint Aberystwyth-Bangor papers in the area of Ecosystem Conservation and Resource Management include:

Alcaide, M; Messina, E; Richter, M; Bargiela, R; Peplies, J; Huws, SA; Newbold, CJ; Golyshin, PN; Simon, MA; Lopez, G; Yakimov, MM; Ferrer, M (2012) Gene sets for utilization of primary and secondary nutrition supplies in the distal gut of endangered Iberian Lynx. PLOS One 7: e51521. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051521

Witcombe, JR; Hollington, PA; Howarth, CJ; Reader, S; Steele, KA (2008) Breeding for abiotic stresses for sustainable agriculture. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 363: 703-716. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2007.2179


Further details about staff working in this area:


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