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Bdelloid rotifers are of particular interest to biologists
Their unique clonal mode of reproduction, their extreme resistance to desiccation and radiation, together with their ready accessibility to laboratory experimentation, make this group an unusual, attractive model to study the consequences of a long-term asexual evolution and extreme resistance.
Prof Karine Van Doninck and her team have several ongoing research projects on this unique animal model. They mainly focus on 4 themes
Rotifers Highlight the Evolution of Asexuals: the mechanisms of genome evolution in the absence of meiosis (RHEA)
The project is funded by the ERC thanks to an ERC Consolidator grant enables to investigate the mechanisms that prevent genome deterioration and promote diversification in the absence of sexual reproduction (including meiosis and fertilization) in the parthenogenetic bdelloid rotifers. This proposal will also try to provide a new biological model system to study fundamental processes such as DNA double strand break repair, since bdelloid rotifers survive massive genome breakage induced by ionizing radiation.
Evolutionary genetics and ecology: studying evolutionary processes at the population level
Several projects and grants funded by the FRS-FNRS. In addition to their famous ancient asexuality, bdelloid rotifers have the capacity to desiccate at any stage of their life cycle and be carried by the wind as dried propagules. This characteristic enables bdelloid rotifers to colonize unpredictable semi-terrestrial niches such as mosses and lichens and to disperse. We are studying the genetic diversity of bdelloid species and seek to understand the spatial and temporal dynamics of bdelloid communities at local scale.
Evolutionary and comparative genomics: studying evolutionary processes at the genome level
Several projects and grants funded by the FRS-FNRS and collaboration projects with Genoscope and France Génomique. Bdelloid rotifers are those notorious asexual metazoans for which we have positive evidence of long-term asexuality. The recent sequencing of the genome of the bdelloid Adineta vaga, coordinated by our laboratory, revealed a genome structure incompatible with meiosis, as genomic regions are shuffled across chromosomes with no homologous pairs being present (Flot et al., 2013 in Nature). We now seek to understand how genomic diversification and homogenization is acquired in A. vaga in the absence of meiotic recombination. Ongoing research largely focuses on the impact of desiccation and radiation on genome and transcriptome evolution and the origin and evolution of gene duplications and functional divergence in experimental A. vaga lines.
Adineta vaga as a new model organism to study DNA repair and oxidative stress
Several projects funded by FRS-FNRS, ARC and ESA. The ARC project, in collaboration with Prof. Bernard Hallet (UCL) and Dr. Florence Chainiaux (UNamur) is investigating the DNA repair mechanism of A. vaga using transcriptomics and gene expression analyses, and oxidative stress responses following desiccation and radiation.The ESA RISE project with the experiments Rotifer-B1 and Rotifer-B2 will be launched on Space X to ISS end 2019 and beginning 2020 to investigate the resistance of rotifers to space radiation and microgravity.