Genetic basis of phenotypic evolution
My group exploits the extensive experimental tools developed in C. hirsuta to ask how variation in the organisation of gene networks between C. hirsuta and A. thaliana drives the evolution of fruit and floral structures. Our reasons for focusing on these morphologies are four-fold: first, these are rapidly evolving traits that can be compared between related but reproductively isolated species; second, the direction of evolutionary change in these morphologies is known, third, these traits likely have adaptive value for mating and seed dispersal strategies, and finally, understanding these processes has potential translational value for Brassica crop improvement.
Explosive seed dispersal
Genetics and mechanics of development
C. hirsuta uses an explosive mechanism to disperse its seeds. Taking a combined biological and modeling approach, we showed that this trait evolved through morphomechanical innovations at different spatial scales. At the organ scale, tension within the fruit wall generates the elastic energy required for explosion. At the tissue scale, this tension is produced by differential contraction of exocarp and endocarp b tissues of the fruit wall. Explosive release of this tension is controlled at the cellular scale by asymmetric lignin deposition within endocarp b cells – a striking pattern that is strictly associated with explosive pod shatter across the Brassicaceae plant family. We bridged these different scales through modeling, to present an integrated mechanism for explosive seed dispersal. We aim to understand the genetic basis of this trait and how it evolved.
PhD position available - Microtubule dynamics in exploding seed pods
Apply here - rePLANT doctoral training program
We found that a developmental switch in microtubule orientation, coupled to a change in growth pattern, was critical for cells to actively contract and generate tension in the fruit valve. Therefore, we aim to understand how microtubule arrays reorient. To do this, we will follow an interdisciplinary approach, using quantitative imaging, genetics and computational modelling in collaboration with the Coen lab (JIC, Norwich, UK).