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Department of Biological and Medical Sciences
Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
+44 (0)1865 483247
CFG Workshop : Computing Skills for Biologists
BIOL5002: Interrogating Genomes
BIOL5014: Molecular Biology
BIOL5017: Data Carpentry
BIOL4004: The Practising Scientist
BIOS7002: Genome Science
I am interested in how genes are regulated, and especially how transcription of the same genes is controlled in different tissues or developmental time points. I use fruit flies (Drosophila) as a model system and the methodology of my research includes next generation sequencing, molecular biology, and genetics.
The cuticle of insects is decorated with non-sensory hairs called trichomes. A few Drosophila species independently lost most of the dorso-lateral trichomes on first instar larvae. Genetic experiments revealed that this naked cuticle phenotype was caused by the evolution of enhancer function at the ovo/shavenbaby (ovo/svb) locus. Here we explore how this discovery catalyzed major new insights into morphological evolution in different developmental contexts, enhancer pleiotropy in gene regulation and the functionality and evolution of the Svb gene regulatory network (GRN). Taken together this highlights the importance of understanding the architecture and evolution of gene regulatory networks in detail and the great potential for further study of the Svb GRN.
Background. The red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum has emerged as an important model organism for the study of gene function in development and physiology, for ecological and evolutionary genomics, for pest control and a plethora of other topics. RNA interference (RNAi), transgenesis and genome editing are well established and the resources for genome-wide RNAi screening have become available in this model. All these techniques depend on a high quality genome assembly and precise gene models. However, the first version of the genome assembly was generated by Sanger sequencing, and with a small set of RNA sequence data limiting annotation quality.
Results. Here, we present an improved genome assembly (Tcas5.2) and an enhanced genome annotation resulting in a new official gene set (OGS3) for Tribolium castaneum, which significantly increase the quality of the genomic resources. By adding large-distance jumping library DNA sequencing to join scaffolds and fill small gaps, the gaps in the genome assembly were reduced and the N50 increased to 4753kbp. The precision of the gene models was enhanced by the use of a large body of RNA-Seq reads of different life history stages and tissue types, leading to the discovery of 1452 novel gene sequences. We also added new features such as alternative splicing, well defined UTRs and microRNA target predictions. For quality control, 399 gene models were evaluated by manual inspection. The current gene set was submitted to Genbank and accepted as a RefSeq genome by NCBI.
Conclusions. The new genome assembly (Tcas5.2) and the official gene set (OGS3) provide enhanced genomic resources for genetic work in Tribolium castaneum. The much improved information on transcription start sites supports transgenic and gene editing approaches. Further, novel types of information such as splice variants and microRNA target genes open additional possibilities for analysis.
microRNAs regulate gene expression by blocking the translation of mRNAs and/or promoting their degradation. They, therefore, play important roles in gene regulatory networks (GRNs) by modulating the expression levels of specific genes and can tune GRN outputs more broadly as part of feedback loops. These roles for microRNAs provide developmental buffering on one hand but can facilitate evolution of development on the other. Here we review how microRNAs can modulate GRNs during animal development as part of feedback loops and through their individual or combinatorial targeting of multiple different genes in the same network. We then explore how changes in the expression of microRNAs and consequently targets can facilitate changes in GRNs that alter development and lead to phenotypic evolution. The reviewed studies exemplify the key roles played by microRNAs in the regulation and evolution of gene expression during developmental processes in animals.
Microtrichia or trichomes are non-sensory actin protrusions produced by the epidermal cells of many insects. Studies of trichome formation in Drosophila have over the last 30 years provided key insights towards our understanding of gene regulation, gene regulatory networks (GRNs), development, the genotype to phenotype map, and the evolution of these processes. Here we review classic studies that have used trichome formation as a model to shed light on Drosophila development as well as recent research on the architecture of the GRN underlying trichome formation. This includes the findings that both small peptides and microRNAs play important roles in the regulation and evolution of this network. In addition, we review research on the evolution of trichome patterns that has provided novel insights into the function and architecture of cis-regulatory modules, and into the genetic basis of morphological change. We conclude that further research on these apparently simple and often functionally enigmatic structures will continue to provide new and important knowledge about development and evolution.
The red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, has emerged as an important model system for studying the evolution of development. Studies with Tribolium complement the vast amount of research done with Drosophila. Developmental features that are conserved between Drosophila and Tribolium, such as body segmentation, are achieved by quite different means, and thus comparison of developmental mechanisms between these two insects can address many interesting questions concerning the evolution of morphology and other characters. Most in situ protocols used for Tribolium have been adapted from Drosophila studies. Whole-mount in situ hybridization is a standard technique to visualize the activity of genes in embryos. The single and double staining protocol presented here uses two nonfluorescent stains to reveal gene activity. The development of both stains can be monitored visually, allowing the strength of the signal to be adjusted as needed. Cells that express both of the genes under investigation are readily detected using a microscope. The use of EGTA during fixation increases the proportion of embryos that devitellinize upon methanol treatment.
Characterisation of the role and regulation of Ultrabithorax in sculpting fine-scale leg morphology. Alexandra D. Buffry, Sebastian Kittelmann, Alistair P. McGregor. BioRxiv (2020). DOI: 10.1101/2020.06.17.152918