How does a placenta evolve? Insights from comparative genome analysis within the live bearing fish family Poeciliidae

Unravelling the way complex organs evolve is one of the fundamental challenges in evolutionary biology. Most complex traits have evolved in the distant past, making it difficult to study their evolution.

However, the placenta in the live bearing fish family Poeciliidae has evolved independently several times in a relatively short timescale, making it a suitable model to study the evolution of complex traits.

Poeciliid fish differ in placental complexity from having no placenta at all to having a highly complex placenta. A few hypotheses exist that try to explain why this variation in placental complexity exists. However, far less is known or even hypothesized about how a placenta evolves. This is what I will investigate, using a comparative genomics approach. My goals for this PhD project are (i) to perform a de novo assembly and annotation of a placental poeciliid species, (ii) to compare the genomes of different poeciliid fish, and search for genomic differences between placental and non-placental species. For this, I will use a combination of available and newly sequenced genomic information. Using these methods, I aim to find clues about the mechanism by which the placenta evolves in the Poeciliidae.

This project is a collaboration between the chairgroups Animal Breeding and Genetics and Experimental Zoology.