Research

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Intra- and intergenomic conflict and epigenetics

Just as societies are rife with potential conflicts, genomes within individuals are in conflict with each other. We study two types of genomic conflict: conflict between paternal and maternal genomes and intergenomic conflict between mitochondrial and nuclear genomes.

Within an insect worker, paternal and maternal genomes can be in conflict because genes inherited from the father benefit when his daughter-worker produces her own offspring, while worker-reproduction is against the interest of the maternal genome. We are investigating how queens and drones may make epigenetic modifications to their genomes to manipulate the behaviour of their worker offspring.

We use the slime mould Physarum polycephalum to study the effect of mixing of mitochondria from more than one individual. Evolutionary theory predicts that such mixing results in selfish mitochondrial genomes, due to conflict amongst mitochondrial lineages. At the same time theory predicts that the nuclear genome will act to suppress selfish behaviour by mitochondrial genomes. Because of its peculiar biology, we can use the slime mould to experimentally test theoretical predictions.