Scheme: Newton International Fellowships
Organisation: University of Oxford
Dates: Mar 2011-Mar 2013
Summary: During sexual reproduction, two unrelated individuals cooperate to achieve a common goal: pass on their genes to the next generation. This cooperation is however not without conflict, parents can fight over who raises the kids, females can cheat and mate with other males. But at least in most animals genes of the mother and father are equally represented in the offspring. This is not always the case. In my research I study a group of insects who’s reproduction is incredibly variable and where evolutionary innovations appear to have reduced the importance of males in reproduction. For example in the citrus mealybug, males are still needed to fertilize females, but the female can eliminate his genes from her son 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 fertilizing her from within. My research aims to study how conflict between the sexes, both directly and indirectly (conflict between mothers and fathers genes within an offspring) can have lead to the evolution of these strange reproductive behaviours and importantly, what stops this conflict from getting out of control in most other species.
In the first year of my fellowship I have focussed on establishing laboratory cultures of both species described above and developing the genetic tools needed for this research. Apart from allowing me to test the role of sexual conflict, this work also has strong potential for a wider use: Both species are economically important agricultural pests and the genetic tools I have developed are being used by me and collaborators to better understand reproduction and population structure of these species in agricultural environments, thereby informing control strategies.