The Laboratory for Molecular Ecology and Evolution

The Laboratory for Molecular Ecology and Evolution is a well equipped, general purpose molecular biology laboratory that serves to promote and facilitate molecular studies that expand our understanding of ecological and evolutionary processes. A wide range of work can be accomplished here, including sample preparation, nucleic acid extraction, electrophoresis, quality assessment and control, endpoint PCR, vector ligation and cloning, and library preparation. Its development was assisted by support from the Basque Government to the Terrestrial Plant Diversity group, in the Department of Plant Biology and Ecology. The laboratory began to function in the late spring of 2019 and was in full operation from the fall of 2019 until the advent of Covid-19 and limitation of on-site work at the University of the Basque Country in late March, 2020. The current lab director is Ikerbasque Professor Peter B. Pearman, Department of Plant Biology and Ecology.

Focus and capacity

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The laboratory was conceived as a new facility to bring to the University of the Basque Country contemporary molecular approaches to the study of the ecology and evolution of natural systems.  The initial idea was to support studies of natural plant populations, especially in regard to broad trends in evolutionary history and the evolution of adaptive variation.  The focus quickly expanded to accommodate studies in molecular ecology in general, including the population biology of animals and microbial ecology.  Funding is currently being sought to support studies that employ reduced representation sequencing, work focused on variation at candidate loci for adaptation using Sanger sequencing, and compositional variation in environmental (metagenomic) samples from marine and aquatic systems. 

 

The lab can accommodate work by three to four scientists at the same time. A large proportion of the work in the lab is mentored research by young researchers (see below), including students working to finish their first degree, as well as masters and doctoral students.  We encourage interested students to contact the lab director or another active participant in the lab’s activities. Due to the laboratory’s relatively small professional staff, there is only limited capacity for short-term work by outside researchers, contract work in the support of third-party projects, or training for persons who are not matriculated in degree programs.  All researchers currently using the lab have a formal relationship, as either student or contract staff, with the University of the Basque Country.  Nonetheless, informal proposals for work by longer-term visiting researchers (4+ months) are welcome and should be sent to the lab director.

Projects

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E. umbellatum var. furcosum

Adaptive and phyletic evolution in the Eriogonoideae (Polygonaceae)–Work in the lab extends research on eriogonoid evolution that was begun early in 2010s.  This work now focuses on the use of reduced representation sequencing, such as genotyping-by-sequencing and ddRADseq, to inform the construction of phylogenies, identification of population structure, species delimitation, and identification of candidate loci for adaptation.

 

Population and adaptive genomics of plant populations on serpentine soil–Preliminary work has begun to investigate genetic differentiation among populations of plant species that occur on serpentine and non-serpentine soil in southern Spain.  Persistence of populations on serpentine soil generally requires adaptive change in order to tolerate elevated levels of heavy metals, Mg/Ca ratios, and water scarcity.  It is unclear if serpentine populations generally present distinct evolutionary lineages, or cases of independent parallel evolution of serpentine ecotypes.  Likely, both mechanisms manifest in southern Spain.  We intend to develop genomic tools to examine these alternatives in several diploid perennial plants.

 

Candidate loci for adaptation in Eriogonum umbellatum­–Collaborative work on this diverse environmental generalist from western North America has been on-going for several years, with focus on development of genomic resources. A draft transcriptome and a draft genome were developed in association with a commercial genomic facility.  These resources were used to locate and verify transcripts highly similar to those from loci that may play a role in adaptation to high levels of heavy metals, such as those found in serpentine soils.

 

Identification of bacterial species in the genus Vibrio in environmental samples–Species in the genus Vibrio are a major component of the marine bacterial flora and play a role in the carbon cycle because of their ability to use chitin as a carbon source.  These bacteria are also responsible for losses in shrimp aquaculture and cause lesions and disease in humans. Collaborative work with Ikerbasque Professor Vladimir Kaberdin, Department of Microbiology at the University of the Basque Country, develops molecular techniques to identify Vibrio species in heterogeneous environmental marine, sediment, and freshwater samples.  We are interested in how bacterial populations respond to environmental and climatic changes, including mass response in density, life history strategy, and community composition. This includes changes in propensity to form biofilms and adopting pathogenic life history strategies.

Student work

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Student work is important for training Basque scientists.

In response to the University of the Basque Country’s mission to educate and prepare young scientists for careers in academia and industry, the laboratory provides resources for undergraduate and graduate students to conduct original research, as part of their undergraduate and graduate research projects.  We encourage students with interest in molecular work on ecological and evolutionary questions to contact the lab director, Peter B. Pearman, or another person currently active in the lab.

Location

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The María Goyri building is on the northwest corner of the campus, and the west end of the University of the Basque Country's Science Park.

The Laboratory for Molecular Ecology and Evolution is located in the Centro de Biotecnología María Goyri, which is found in the Science Park of the University of the Basque Country in Leioa, Bizkaia.  This modern, energy efficient building provides adequate facilities for an active laboratory.  The building is secured 24h with a card-reader lock and a concierge is present during the afternoons and evenings.

Contact

Director:  Peter B. Pearman

e-mail:    peter.pearman(at)ehu.es

phone:  +34 (0)56 601 8030