Our project focuses on the genomic bases of tolerance to malnutrition. Many animal species, sadly still including humans in some regions, must live through periods of famine. The ability to survive, develop and even reproduce under such nutritional stress must have been favored by natural selection, leading to the evolution of specific adaptations improving malnutrition tolerance. While some of these adaptations can be inferred from flexible physiological responses of individual animals to malnutrition, a more direct way to study such adaptations is to which traits change genetically in populations regularly exposed to malnutrition over many generations.
We use this experimental evolution approach: we study in real time evolutionary changes in laboratory populations of fruit flies (Drosophila melongaster) exposed to chronic juvenile malnutrition for over 120 generations. In this project, we use the latest genomic technologies to study changes in the expression and sequence of genes associated with the evolution of better ability to survive and develop under nutritional stress in these files.
Adaptations to tolerate malnutrition have been proposed to be partially responsible for human vulnerability to metabolic diseases and some age-related medical problems (the "thrifty genotype hypothesis"). As responses to nutrition involve similar signaling pathways in human and flies, our research will throw light on processes that are also relevant for human health and well-being.