Research topics


Our group is interested in characterizing patterns and processes of genetic variation in wild and crop plants using population genetic, quantitative genetic, bioinformatics and related approaches.

Evolutionary genomics of adaptation in Arabidopsis thaliana and close relatives

The model plant Arabidopsis thaliana is one of the best studied plant species. It occurs throughout the Northern Hemisphere in a wide diversity of ecological habitats and is adapted to local environmental conditions. We characterize genome-wide patterns of genetic variation in A. thaliana with a focus on populations from the Italian Alps within the 1001 genomes project.

We also study the genomic changes associated with reproductive isolation in response to adaptation to different environments or geographic isolation. In particular we are interested in the question whether genes involved in reproductive isolation evolve more rapidly than other types of genes.

The two close endemic relatives A. pedemontana and A. cebennensis have small distribution ranges in the Piedmont region of Italy and in the Cevenne region of South France, respectively, which allows to test for the evolutionary consequences of a small effective population size such as high genetic drift, reduced efficiency of purifying selection and adaptation evolution

See also: DFG Priority Programm SPP 1529 Adaptomics

Recent publications:

  • Jacquemin et al. Levels and patterns of genetic diversity differ between two closely related endemic Arabidopsis species. (2016) bioRxiv
  • Günther et al. (2016) Genomic and phenotypic differentiation of Arabidopsis thaliana along altitudinal gradients in the North Italian Alps. Molecular Ecology DOI: 10.1111/mec.13705 Publisher, biorxiv
  • Gossmann et al. Transcriptomes of plant gametophytes have a higher proportion of rapidly evolving and young genes than sporophytes. Mol. Biol. Evol. 33:1669–1678 (2016) Publisher

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Adaptation and genetic variation of plant genetic resources (PGR)

Plant genetic resources contribute to future plant breeding in a rapidly changing world. We investigate genetic and phenotypic diversity of wild and exotic germplasm to identify useful genetic variation by investigating the history of domestication and their adaptation to different environments. We use population genetic and quantitative genetic approaches and plant breeding to investigate these questions and to develop new approaches for the utilization of PGR in breeding modern varieties.

Ongoing projects involve barley, rye, soybean and amaranth.

Recent publications:

  • Stetter et al. (2017) Genomic and phenotypic evidence for an incomplete domestication of South American grain amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus). Molecular Ecology doi:10.1111/mec.13974 Publisher, bioRxiv
  • Bauer et al. (2016) Towards a whole-genome sequence for rye (Secale cereale L.). Plant J.Publisher
  • Russell et al. (2016) Exome sequencing of geographically diverse barley landraces and wild relatives gives insights into environmental adaptation. Nature Genetics 48, 1024-1030 Publisher

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Methods for analyzing and utilizing genetic and phenotypic diversity

We are interested in the development and application of statistical methods that allow to identify populations whose genealogies differ from the standard bifurcating genealogies modelled by Kingman's n-coalescent and related models. For alternative genealogy models we focus on coalescent processes with multiple mergers.

See also: DFG Priority Programme SPP 1590 Probabilistic Structures in Evolution

A very promising development in plant breeding is genomic selection, which has become possible by high-throughput genotyping technologies and new statistical and computational approaches. We implement genomic selection in barley breeding and the characterization of plant genetic resources and develop new approaches to make the prediction of genomically estimated breeding values more efficient.

Recent publications:

  • Eldon et al. (2015) Can the site-frequency spectrum distinguish exponential population growth from multiple-merger coalescents? Genetics 199, 841-856 Publisher

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Funding sources

  • Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
  • German Ministry of Science and Research (BMBF)
  • German Ministry of Agriculture (BMEL)
  • AiF