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Research groups

Gene regulation and morphogenesis

Dr Isabel Almudi
Evolutionary novelties at the origin of winged insects
Dr Isabel Almudi
Researcher associated to Dr Fernando Casares, CSIC

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Summary

Evolutionary innovations are biological revolutions: new organs are critically associated with the emergence of new species and their exploitation of new niches, however, the origin of morphological novelties is a long-standing question in Evolutionary Biology.
    Our interest is to understand how gene networks evolved in order to give rise to new organs and structures that favoured the radiation of insects. The mayfly species Cloeon dipterum is a privileged model to study evolutionary innovations. First, these mayflies display one of the most striking examples of a sexually dimorphic novel structure. Cloeon males develop, in addition to the compound eyes, an extra pair of dorsal, turban-shaped eyes. Furthermore, as ancestral mayflies were the first insects in which wings evolved, they are key to understand the origin of insect wings, which led to the conquest of the sky and the adaptation to a huge diversity of new ecological niches.

 

    We have established mayflies as a model system in the lab for the first time with a continuous culture of C. dipterum inbred lines and the generation of a variety of "omics" resources. Using these datasets, we compare sex-specific gene expression to show how specific gene networks could have evolved to play a role in the origin of these new organs, wings and turbanate eyes, first originated in mayflies. Moreover, we developed several tools that permit us to functionally test the role of these networks in the appearance of these novel structures.