Dr Laura Ross

Dr Laura Ross, University of Oxford

Genomic conflict in scale insects: the causes and consequences of bizarre reproductive systems

Dr Laura Ross

Dr Ross’ research aims to study how strange reproductive behaviours evolve in some species as a result of conflict between sexes either directly (between mothers and fathers) or indirectly (between mothers and father genes within an offspring). Dr Ross also looks at what stops this conflict from getting out of control in most other species:

“During sexual reproduction, two unrelated individuals cooperate to achieve a common goal: pass on their genes to the next generation. In most animals the genes of the mother and father are equally represented in the offspring, but this is not always the case. In my research I study a group of insects whose reproduction is incredibly variable and evolutionary innovations appear to have reduced the importance of males in reproduction. In the citrus mealy bug, males are still needed to fertilise females, but the female can eliminate his genes from her sons. In the cottony cushion scale, evolution appears to have driven the male to become a parasite living in the body of the female, producing sperm and fertilising her from within.

Using laboratory cultures of both species I can test the role of sexual conflict in these insects but this work also has the potential for wider use. Both species are economically important agricultural pests and the genetic tools I have developed are being used to better understand reproduction and population structure of the insects in agricultural environments which informs control strategies of these pests.”

Dr Laura Ross completed her PhD at the University of Groningen, Netherlands and after a brief postdoc at the University of Massachusetts in the USA, was awarded a Newton International Fellowship in 2011 which she undertook at the University of Oxford.

“The Royal Society Newton International Fellowship has given me the opportunity to further develop the research project I designed as a graduate student, and has provided me with independence at an early career stage. The fellowship has allowed me to move to the University of Oxford to collaborate with some of the leaders in my field and benefit from its great academic environment. Finally it has allowed me to secure further fellowship funding from the Natural and Environmental Research council, which will allow me to start up my own lab at the University of Edinburgh at the end of the Newton fellowship.”