NERC research grant awarded

Dr Kirsten Wolff (Newcastle University) and Prof Deborah Charlesworth (Edinburgh University) have been awarded a NERC research grant entitled 'Inter-genomic conflict in gynodioecy and its effects on molecular evolution of mitochondrial genomes'.
     Within species variation is an extremely important component of biodiversity to allow populations to adapt to changes in their environment. This is often related to environmental variation (e.g. north-south differences) or local environments (e.g. metal-tolerant plants growing on lead and copper mines). Here, we plan to study a case of variation that is maintained by natural selection acting through the benefits and costs of two different sex forms in a single plant species or population — hermaphrodites (which have both female and male functions, the situation in most plants) and females (or male steriles). In a few percent of flowering plants, both females and hermaphrodites co-occur. This is called gynodioecy.  
     The evolutionary processes involved in the maintenance of the sex forms can best be studied in natural populations with male sterile plants, such as many species in the genus Plantago (plantains). The research will increase our understanding of the origin and maintenance of male sterility, which has also important implications in plant breeding. This is because females are widely used in plant breeding, particularly in crops like maize where breeders want to produce hybrids, and also to prevent the ‘escape’ of pollen from genetically modified crops.

Dr Kirsten Wolff
Reader in Evolutionary Genetics

published on: 2nd July 2012