About the Project


Universidad Politecnica de Valencia, Spain Centro Nacional de Biotecnologia, Spain Botanical Gardens of the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Halle, Germany Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding, Cologne, Germany University of Oulu, Finland John Innes Institute, UK PROJECT SUMMARY

FIBR: Molecular evolutionary ecology of developmental signaling pathways in complex environments

Goal: To measure geographic variation in natural selection on flowering pathways and study the genetic basis of climate adaptation by growing lines from different parts of Europe in common sites across the native European range of Arabidopsis thaliana.

Principal Investigator: Johanna Schmitt (Brown University)
Co-PIs: Richard Amasino (University of Wisconsin), Michael Purugganan (New York University), Stephen M. Welch (Kansas State University)
Senior Personnel: Tonia Korves, Amity Wilczek (Brown), Sanjoy Das, William H. Hsu, Judith L. Roe (KSU), Detlef Weigel (Salk Institute and Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology)

Scientific objectives: How organisms integrate information from multiple environmental signals to respond appropriately to dynamic real-world conditions is a fundamental problem in biology. For example, flowering time in plants is an important trait controlled by diverse environmental cues, but little is known about how these multiple signals are integrated in complex natural environments. We propose to investigate the functional and evolutionary significance of natural genetic variation in the converging signaling pathways that regulate the seasonal timing of flowering in the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana. To this end, we will combine approaches from molecular biology, moleculary evolutionary genetics, quantitative genetics, evolutionary ecology, gene network modeling, and biogeography. There are 9 major objectives: 1) to identify natural genetic variants in environmental signal integration; 2) to dissect molecular mechanisms of signal integration: 3) to analyze DNA sequence variation in genes across several converging flowering pathways to uncover the evolutionary forces shaping the integration of different environmental signals; 4) to test whether natural sequence variation in these candidate genes is causally associated with different responses to complex environments; 5) to identify quantitative trait loci (QTL) contributing to natural variation in flowering responses by mapping them on a fine genetic scale; 6) to create multilocus near-isogenic lines (NILs) to examine the effects on flowering time of different combinations of natural allelic variants of candidate genes; 7) to model the effects of natural variation in candidate flowering genes on overall pathway function and consequent flowering time responses to different photothermal environments; 8) to test for evidence of local adaptation to climate by examining geographic associations between flowering responses, candidate gene variation, and climate in the site of ecotype origin; 9) to measure geographic variation in natural selection on flowering pathways and investigate the genetic basis of adaptation to climate by growing a set of lines originating from different parts of Europe in replicated field experiments across the native European range of A. thaliana. We will accomplish this last objective through training collaborations with leading Arabidopsis molecular biologists and/or molecular population geneticists at 6 major European laboratories: Carlos Alonso-Blanco and José Martínez-Zapater (Centro Nacional de Biotecnologia, Spain), Miguel Blázquez, (Universidad Politecnica de Valencia, Spain), Caroline Dean (John Innes Institute, UK), Maarten Koornneef and George Coupland (Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding, Cologne, Germany), Matthias Hoffmann (Botanical Gardens of the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Halle Germany), and Outi Savolainen and Helmi Kuittinen (University of Oulu, Finland).

Expected broader impacts: The results of this project will be important for predicting how plants will respond to future climate change, and will help to inform conservation management and crop improvement strategies. The broad research scope will provide interdisciplinary training to postdoctoral, predoctoral, and undergraduate students as well as K-12 educators, exposing them to a combination of approaches spanning molecular biology, evolutionary and quantitative genetics, field ecology, gene network modeling, climate modeling, and biogeography. The international collaboration will provide unique opportunities for students and postdocs to learn Arabidopsis molecular and population genetics through training in laboratories at the cutting edge of these fields. Thus, future researchers and educators will be trained to transcend disciplinary boundaries and integrate molecular and evolutionary approaches to fundamental problems in biology.