I’m currently wrapping up my PhD at Cardiff University, where I’ve been predominantly investigating adaptation to arsenic in the earthworm, Lumbricus rubellus. The projects is fantastically diverse and has led me to interogate adaptation from hypothetical and community levels, right down to identifying candidate loci for tolerance while better describing As metabolism in earthworms.
I have a keen interest in adaptation and would like to continue to look at the temporal nature (from phenotypic plasticity, to epigenetic and then genetic variation) and overall adaptive potential relative to specific populations.
I’m intersted in adaptation to As as a result of continuing interst in earthworms at a highly contaminated site in the UK called Devon Great Consols. Soils at the former mine site contain an extensive amount of the metalloid, ~ 0.5 – 7% in some publications, though Lumbricus rubellus rather happily remains. I essentially want to find out how they can persist and what adaptaion means to these communities.
The first part of my project has used life-history parameters to populate a matrix model for calculating population growth rate of Lumbricus rubellus under As contamination (in prep.). The adults from this experiment have gone on to a myriad of ‘omics endpoints to highly resolve As metabolism. They include metabolimcs, using NMR with Jake Bundy at Imperial, As speciation using HPLC ICP MS and transcriptomics via RNAseq with the GenePool at Edinburgh University.
The output of the population model study supports adaptation at highly contaminated sites, however we also expect reduced genetic diversity- termed “genetic erosion”, at these sites relative to proximal “clean” sites. I have therefore looked at mitochondrial markers, in tandem with genetic markers (using RADseq, in this case similar to Paul Hohenlohe’s pitcher plant mosquito paper) to describe genetic diversity at a range of metal contaminated sites.
RAD-seq (Restriction Associated DNA sequencing) has offered an extraordinarily progressive tool to ecological and evolutionary studies in which I am incredibly fortunate to garner a great deal of technical expertise. I’ve implemented a full-sib breeding experiment to determine the genetic bases for metal tolerance permitting the construction of high-density linkage maps, while indicating candidate loci responsible and examining the adaptive potential between discrete populations. I was also extremely interested in using RAD-seq to determine the effectiveness for trait mapping using individuals sampled directly from the field and have subsequently received funding as part of a NERC small grant scheme. Further to this, I’m implementing RADseq with cDNA as part of an NBAF grant to support our transcriptomic analysis of As metabolism.
Finally, I’ve been extremely interested in the role of epigenetics in adaptation and have instigated work to look at DNA methylation in As exposed earthworms using MEDIP and Biuslphite conversion.