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Ralf J. Sommer

Max-Planck institute for Developmental Biology
Spemannstrasse 37
Tuebingen, BW 72076


Taxa Studied: Invertebrate Animals
Techniques Employed: Quantitative PCR (qPCR), Microarrays, Sanger Sequencing, 454 Pyrosequencing, Solexa (Illumina) Sequencing, QTL Mapping, SNP Mapping, Sectioning for Electron Microscopy, Transgenesis, Mutagenesis
Research Description: Evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) investigates the evolution of developmental processes, aiming for a mechanistic understanding of phenotypic change. Building on the analysis of model organisms in developmental biology, evo-devo has seen a fruitful expansion in the last two decades and has successfully integrated various comparative research strategies. The primary scientific goal of my group is to unravel the mechanistic changes in development that give rise to evolutionary alterations and novelty (for recent review see Sommer, 2009). For this to be achieved well-selected model organisms with a sophisticated analytical toolkit for functional investigations have to be developed. We study free-living nematodes and have established Pristionchus pacificus as a model system in evolutionary biology with genetic, genomic and transgenic tools. The second major research aim of my group is to better connect evo-devo with other areas of evolutionary biology. Specifically, synthesis with population genetics can reveal how phenotypic evolution is initiated at the micro-evolutionary level and synthesis with evolutionary ecology can add an ecological perspective to these evolutionary processes. P. pacificus has a well-defined association with scarab beetles and more than 160 strains of P. pacificus from around the world have been isolated providing the necessary material for studies of natural variation and population genetics. In addition, we have started to analyze the ecological interactions of P. pacificus in the beetle ecosystem making use of the available genetic and genomic tools. One central question of our studies in this context is the evolution of parasitism. Together, the general aim of my group is to combine research in evo-devo with microevolution and ecology in order to help providing a more comprehensive synthesis in evolutionary biology (Sommer, 2009). Reference: Sommer, R. J. 2009: The future of evo-devo: model systems and evolutionary theory. Nat Rev Genet. 10: 416-422.
Lab Web Page: http://www.eb.tuebingen.mpg.de/departments/4-evolutionary-biology/department-4-evolutionary-biology
Willing to Host Undergraduates: YES
Actively Seeking Undergraduates: YES
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