News 2017

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MGSE PhD Student Retreat 2017 in Tecklenburg

Mgse Retreat 2017 News

The second MGSE PhD Student Retreat took place on 16 – 18 October 2017 at the Evangelische Jugendbildungsstätte in Tecklenburg at the foothills of the Teutoburg Forest. The PhD students got together to present their research, exchange ideas with their peers and get familiar with other group’s work. They were joined by MGSE PIs Dr. Claudia Fricke and Prof. Dr. Christoph Scherber as well as Postdoc Dr. Caroline Zanchi who provided valuable feedback on the student’s projects and gave presentations on their current work themselves. Also MGSE Speaker Jürgen Gadau visited on the first day to listen to the students talk and informing about recent developments within the graduate school. In addition to the scientific presentations and a debate about “Does evolutionary theory need a rethink”, the group finally learned about a one of the pivotal events in European history during an excursion to the Varusschlach Museum und Park Kalkriese. Further information

Frederik Franke successfully defended his PhD thesis

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Congratulations to Frederik Franke who successfully defended his PhD thesis on "Parasite-host interaction in a cestode-fish system: Schistocephalus solidus and its obligatory second intermediate host, the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus)". Frederik conducted his thesis in the Animal Evolutionary Ecology Group of Prof. Dr. Joachim Kurtz at the Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity. We wish Frederik all the best for his future career!

MGSE celebrates two graduates

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Congratulations to Lena Peitzmann and Tobias Zimmermann who were awarded with their doctoral degree today. Lena conducted her PhD studies at the Institute of Hygiene under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Alexander Mellmann. She worked on the “Genotypic characterization and genomic evolution of community-acquired Staphylococcus aureus from sub-Saharan Africa”. Tobias Zimmermann worked under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Norbert Sachser at the Department of Behavioural Biology. In his thesis he investigated the “Shaping of behavioural phenotypes by social experiences during adolescence: neuroendocrine mechanisms and adaptive significance”.
We wish Lena and Tobias all the best for their future career!

ETT-Fellow Juan Alfonzo arrived in Münster

Juan Alfonzo

On 11 July, Prof. Dr. Juan D. Alfonzo arrived in Münster as new fellow of the Evolution Think Tank. Juan Alfonzo is a Professor at the Department of Microbiology at the Ohio State University in Columbus, OH in the US. He is a trained Microbiologist who is interested in RNA processing events that are unique to trypanosomes and that could be exploited as targets for the design of therapies against protozoan diseases. In a broader context, his laboratory investigates how intracellular compartmentalization affects the fate of tRNAs within cells and thus their function. His work is done with a clear evolutionary angle always present. In 2013, Prof. Alfonzo received the Ohio State University Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching. More information

Workshop on stem cells of invertebrates

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Together with ETT-Fellow Prof. Dr. Loriano Ballarin, the MGSE organized a workshop on "Stem cells of invertebrates: Their role in development, reproduction & regeneration" on 12 July 2017. In addition to Prof. Ballarin, talks were given by Dr. Tsuyoshi Momose from the Observatoire Océanologique in Villefranche-sur-Mer Cedex, France and Dr. Cinzia Ferrario from the University of Milan, Italy. After the public lectures, participants joined for a roundtable discussion in the afternoon. It is planned to publish the outcome of the workshop in a review article. More information

Statistics workshop for MGSE PhD students

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© MiraDeShazer via Pixabay

From 26 – 30 June 2017, Dr. Mareike Koppik from the Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity offered a workshop for MGSE PhD students who are interested in using generalized linear models (GLMs) and R for their statistical analysis. She was supported by her colleagues from the Evolution & Sexual Conflict Group Dr. Claudia Fricke, Kristina Wensing, and Sergio Ávila Calero. MGSE PhD student Alexandra Mutwill shared her experience of the workshop with us: “The MGSE Statistics Workshop was outstanding! Starting with an introduction to statistical modelling we thereafter got to know different models, their theoretical background and learned how to apply them in R. This knowledge was strengthened by exercises that have been created with lots of effort in advance and based on “real” data sets with biological background. Mareike and Claudia showed the amazing capacity to catch everyone at their individual level of knowledge, what made the course worthwhile for everyone. Thank you so much for your effort and time and for the knowledge you shared with us!” More information

ETT-Fellow Loriano Ballarin arrived in Münster

Loriano Ballarin

On 16th June 2017, Prof. Dr. Loriano Ballarin arrived in Münster who will stay as a Fellow of the Evolution Think Tank until mid-July. Prof. Ballarin is an Associate Professor of Zoology at the Department of Biology at the University of Padova, Italy, where he teaches Zoology and Comparative Immunobiology. In his research he investigates the role of haemocytes in immune and stress responses in ascidians, with particular reference to colonial species. His studies focus in particular on phagocytosis and allorecognition. Prof. Ballarin is a familiar face to the MGSE: He visited Münster as an ETT-Fellow already in 2015 where he organized a workshop on "Evolutionary Aspects of Allorecognition".

Workshop on cryptic genetic variation

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Cryptic genetic variation (CRV) is defined as standing genetic variation that does not contribute to the normal range of phenotypes observed in a population, but that is available to modify a phenotype that arises after environmental change or the introduction of novel alleles. Together with ETT-Fellow Chris Smith, the MGSE organized a workshop on "More than meets the eye: The role of cryptic genetic variation in the evolution of novel phenotypes" on 1st June 2017. Graduate students, postdocs and PIs of the MGSE and affiliated institutes met to discuss, e.g., how CRV is released, how it can be detected, and what is the the relationship between CRV and the evolution of novelty. The discussion rounds were completed by excellent talks by Prof. Dr. Ehab Abouheif (Department of Biology, McGill University, Montreal) and - via Skype - Prof. Dr. Emilie C. Snell-Rood (College of Biological Sciences, University of Minnesota). More information

ETT-Fellow Chris Smith arrived in Münster

Chris Smith

Last weekend, Prof. Dr. Chris Smith arrived in Münster who is visting the MGSE as a Fellow of the Evolution Think Tank until mid-June. Chris Smith is an Associate Professor at the Department of Biology at the Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, in the US. His research interests include the ecology and evolution of societies, division of labor (caste), and the genetics and genomics of caste systems in ants. During his stay, Prof. Chris will focus, e.g., on the evolution of an insect-specific gene family, the Osiris genes. On 31st May - 1st June he will offer a workshop together with Jürgen Gadau and Ehab Abouheif (McGill University, CA) on evolutionary genomics of social insects.

Helene Richter joined the MGSE as Principal Investigator

© Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Künste NRW

Prof. Dr. Helene Richter was accepted as new PI of the MGSE. She was appointed as Professor for Behavioural Biology and Animal Welfare at the Institute for Neuro- and Behavioural Biology at the University of Münster in March 2017. The new professorship is supported by the Ministry for Innovation, Science and Research of the state of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW). It is the first professorship for animal welfare in NRW. Helene Richter aims to develop scientific concepts and methodological approaches for the refinement of animal experiments and laboratory animal housing conditions. Her further research interests include reproducibility and generalizability of findings from animal experiments, cognition and emotion in mammals, and the emergence of individuality. More information on her research can be found here. Helene Richter is currently highly sought after by the media for interviews concerning the subject of animal welfare. Interviews have been published, e.g., in the current issue of the university newspaper "wissen|leben" (No. 2, 26th April 2017) but also in the Welt, Süddeutsche Zeitung, or the Westfälische Nachrichten. We wish Helene Richter a very warm welcome!

Behaviour of female mice is less stable near ovulation

© WWU - Department of Behavioural Biology

“Animal personalities” – defined as inter-individual differences being consistent over time and/or context – have been described in a wide range of species. While it is well established that stable animal personalities do exist, knowledge about fluctuations in the stability of such traits is rather limited. MGSE PhD student Niklas Kästner could now show that behavioural consistency over time is affected by the reproductive cycle: In a group of female mice of the same age and with identical genetic make-up, social interest as well as anxiety-like behaviour proved to be significantly less predictable near ovulation. From an evolutionary perspective, the result suggests that females accept higher costs of increased phenotypic plasticity during states directly linked to fitness maximization. The findings have been published in Royal Society Open Science: Kästner N, Richter SH, Gamer M, Kaiser S & Sachser N (2017) What a difference a day makes—female behaviour is less predictable near ovulation. Royal Society Open Science 4: 160998. The press release of the WWU can be found here.

MGSE celebrates two graduates

Graduation Ceremony Gildas Megan

Congratulations to Megan Kutzer and Gildas Lepennetier who were awarded with their doctoral degree today. Megan conducted her PhD studies in the Animal Evolutionary Ecology Group at the Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity (IEB) under the supervision of Dr. Sophie Armitage. Her thesis is entitled “Host immune strategies: remembering, resisting and tolerating” and investigated how immune priming affects resistance and tolerance in Drosophila melanogaster. Gildas Lepennetier worked under the supervision of Dr. Francesco Catania in the Evolutionary Cell Biology Group at the IEB. In his thesis he studied the “Evolution of gene architecture in Eukaryotes”.
We wish Megan and Gildas all the best for their future career!

Nuclear architecture emerges at the awakening of the genome

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© MPI Münster, Vaquerizas Lab / Noelia Diaz

MGSE PI Juanma Vaquerizas and his “Regulatory Genomics” Research Group from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster unravelled when during development the 3D organisation of the genome in the nucleus arises. The 3D organization of chromatin has emerged as a critical feature of gene regulation. However, the timing and mechanisms of the establishment of this conformation remained unclear so far. To investigate when spatial genome organization is first established during development, the Vaquerizas group examined chromatin conformation in early Drosophila development. They found that chromatin architecture emerges during the transcriptional activation of the zygotic genome. Intriguingly, chromatin architecture is nucleated around transcriptionally active loci, although in a transcription independent manner, which suggests that mechanisms related to gene activity, but not transcription per se are involved in this process. Finally, they identified a factor – Zelda – that is critical for the correct establishment of 3D chromatin topology. The findings have been published in Cell: Hug CB, Grimaldi AG, Kruse K & Vaquerizas JM Chromatin architecture emerges during zygotic genome activation independent of transcription. Cell 169: 216-228.e19. 10.1016/j.cell.2017.03.024 [doi]. The full press release of the MPI can be found here.

Structure in chaos: news from a complex evolutionary network of laurasiatherian animals

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© LWL/Steinweg

Diverse animals as hedgehogs, bats, horses, cows, and dogs all evolved from a common ancestor, which lived about 80 million years ago. All of them originated on the northern supercontinent of Laurasia and form the group of Laurasiatheria. As part of her PhD thesis, MGSE Alumni Liliya Doronina and researchers from the team of MGSE PI Jürgen Schmitz at the Medical Faculty, together with Russian and American colleagues, investigated the genomes of laurasiatherian animals from a new perspective by applying exhaustive analyses of retroposed elements in the genomes of the bat, horse, cow, and dog. Their results significantly support the network-character of laurasiatherian phylogenetic relationships. However, using newly developed statistical tests for analyzing retroposon data in such complex animal groups, they found some relationships among orders within this network: Among the other laurasiatherians, bats were the next group that evolved enough to be separated after hedgehogs, and, surprisingly, horses probably appeared due to a fusion of the bats’ ancestor and the ancestor of dogs and cows. The findings have been published in Genome Research: Doronina L, Churakov G, Kuritzin A, Shi J, Baertsch R, Clawson H & Schmitz J (2017) Speciation network in laurasiatheria: Retrophylogenomic signals. Genome Research. 10.1101/gr.210948.116 [doi]. The press release of the Medical Faculty can be found here.


6th MGSE Symposium: "Between Science and Philosophy of Science"

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The 6th MGSE Symposium was held on 22nd – 23rd March 2017 in Münster. It was organized in collaboration with the Center for Philosophy of Science (Zentrum für Wissenschaftstheorie, ZfW) under the theme "Between Science and Philosophy of Science". About 50 researchers of the natural and life sciences and philosophers of science met at the Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity for a lively interdisciplinary dialogue.
For the keynote lectures the MGSE welcomed three renowned philosophers of science: Philippe Huneman from the CNRS in Paris, Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther from the UC Santa Cruz, and Marie I. Kaiser from the University of Bielefeld who shared their concepts and perspectives with the mixed audience. The sciences, on the other hand, were represented by MGSE PIs Jürgen Schmitz and Hans Kerp and ETT-Fellow Mario Rosario Guarracino from the Institute for High Performance Computing and Networking in Naples. Last but not least, the symposium was again an opportunity for the PhD students to present their ongoing PhD projects in short talks and posters. For the first time, also 3-min poster talks were included into the program which functioned as appetizers for the following poster session.
The MGSE would like to thank everybody who took part in the symposium and helped to create a very stimulating and successful meeting which highlighted the successful interdisciplinary collaborations within the graduate school!
Pictures and further information


ETT-Fellow Mario Rosario Guarracino arrived in Münster

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On 12th March 2017, Dr. Mario Rosario Guarracino arrived in Münster, who is visiting the MGSE as a Fellow of the Evolution Think Tank until mid-May. Dr. Guarracino is a staff researcher at the High Performance Computing and Networking Institute (ICAR) of the National Council for Research (CNR) of Italy where he leads the Computational Data Science Laboratory. His objective is to study and develop novel algorithms, methods and software tools based on mathematical programming and statistical learning theory. His expertise is in supervised classification, clustering, variable selection, outlier detection, and incremental learning for static and streaming data. He applies his expertise to unveil biological mechanisms, using data produced by high throughput technologies. His aim is to devise novel statistical methodologies to help life scientists to have a better insight in their problems, without the hassle of integrating and analysing large quantities of data coming from different sources.


MGSE PhD student illuminates phylogenetic lineage of beavers

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The phylogenetic position of the beaver has long been disputed. Based on the structure of their skulls and the configuration of their infraorbital foramina, they were once placed together with squirrels in the rodent suborder Sciuromorpha. As part of her PhD thesis, MGSE Alumni Liliya Doronina could now provide evidence for a clear relationship between beavers and kangaroo rat-related species within a significantly supported mouse-related clade. To reconstruct the phylogenetic tree of the beaver, Liliya Doronina and her team – including MGSE PIs Jürgen Schmitz and Monika Stoll - assembled a rough Eurasian beaver genome from freely-accessible, short, paired-end Illumina reads. These provided long enough sequences to analyze phylogenetically informative SINE retroposons embedded within them. By performing multi-directional screenings of SINE presence/absence patterns they could finally reconstruct the evolutionary history of the beaver. Such phylogenomic investigations not only provide new insight into basic zoological/phylogenetic questions, but also create a solid basis for comparative genomic and functional studies (Doronina L, Matzke A, Churakov G, Stoll M, Huge A & Schmitz J (2017) The beaver's phylogenetic lineage illuminated by retroposon reads. Scientific Reports 7: 43562). The press release by the WWU can be found here.


Adaptive shaping of the phenotype by environmental influences during adolescence

© WWU/Dirk Loddenkemper

The social environment during the prenatal and early postnatal phase can have substantial modulatory effects on behaviour in mammals and birds which adaptively shape the phenotype for the prevailing environment. MGSE PhD student Tobias Zimmermann from the group of Prof. Dr. Norbert Sachser from the Department of Behavioural Biology provided now new evidence that the same holds true for adolescence. In previous work, the group of Prof. Sachser could already demonstrate that the exposure of male guinea pigs to large mixed-sex colonies during adolescence leads to a phenotype of low aggressiveness and low cortisol responsiveness as part of an effort-saving queuing strategy that facilitates integration into social groups. Tobias Zimmermann now completed the story by showing that the opposite strategy of high aggressiveness and high cortisol responsiveness that is shaped by pair-housing conditions during adolescence confers a reproductive benefit when competing directly with an opponent for mating access. This is the clearest evidence to date for adaptive shaping of the behavioural and neuroendocrine phenotype by environmental influences during adolescence. The findings were published in February 2017 in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B (Zimmermann TD, Kaiser S, Hennessy MB & Sachser N (2017) Adaptive shaping of the behavioural and neuroendocrine phenotype during adolescence. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 284: 20162784). The press release of the WWU can be found  here.


MGSE celebrates two graduates

Graduation Ceremony Hanna Liliya

Congratulations to Hanna Ruhmann and Liliya Doronina who were awarded with their doctoral degree on last Friday. Hanna Ruhmann conducted her PhD studies in the Evolution & Sexual Conflict Group of Dr. Claudia Fricke at the Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity. Her thesis is entitled “Age dependent changes in male reproductive traits determining pre- and post-copulatory success in Drosophila melanogaster”. Liliya Doronina worked under the supervision of PD Dr. Jürgen Schmitz at the Institute of Experimental Pathology at the Center for Molecular Biology of Inflammation (ZMBE). The topic of her thesis is “The power of ancient retroposed sequences to resolve problematic mammalian evolutionary questions”.
We wish Hanna and Liliya all the best for their future career!


Jürgen Gadau succeeds Joachim Kurtz as Speaker of the MGSE

New Mgse Speaker

The MGSE Steering Committee has elected Prof. Dr. Jürgen Gadau as its new Speaker, taking over from Prof. Dr. Joachim Kurtz, who led the graduate school since its founding in 2011. Prof. Kurtz was not only a founding member of the MGSE, but also contributed substantially to its development and success. We thank Prof. Kurtz for his many years of outstanding commitment and dedication to the mission of the MGSE. As Speaker of the new DFG-Research Training Group 2220 on “Evolutionary Processes in Adaptation and Disease” (RTG EvoPAD) and as PI of the MGSE he remains closely linked to the graduate school. Furthermore, he will act as ex-officio member of the Steering Committee.
With Prof. Dr. Jürgen Gadau a well-known face is taking over as head of the MGSE: From May to August 2014, he visited Münster as a fellow of the Evolution Think Tank. In November 2016, Prof. Gadau moved from the Arizona State University to the University of Münster, where he is now a Professor for Molecular Evolutionary Biology at the Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity. His research focuses on speciation, species differences, and adaptations in solitary and social Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps) using a range of genetic and genomic techniques. A very warm welcome to our new Speaker!


Benjamin Bomfleur joined the MGSE as Principal Investigator

Benjamin Bomfleur
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Dr. Benjamin Bomfleur was accepted as new PI of the MGSE. Dr. Bomfleur is a Junior Research-Group Leader within the DFG Emmy Noether Programme at the Institute for Geology and Palaeontology. In his research on Paleobotany he focusses, e.g., on systematics, biology, and ecology of late Palaeozoic and Mesozoic plants and is particularly interested in high-latitude palaeoecosystems and their role in plant evolution. More information on his research can be found here. Dr. Bomfleur is the 29th PI of the MGSE. We wish him a very warm welcome!