Biological innovation has been defined as the acquisition of new functions, but, how they arose? how are they incorporated into a given biological system? or how can them be modulated to respond to environmental challenges?These are the question the group aims to answer.
My research deals with this idea of unveiling biological innovation mechanisms by applying integrative system biology approaches under different stresses using microorganisms as models, and by applying experimental evolution to observe evolution in action or to replay what has been observed or what is modelled.
> Microbiome as part of a whole. Microorganisms have been at the forefront of insects’ specialization (as clear example the interaction and specialization of aphids with Buchnera aphidicola and other microorganisms, as highlighted in my PhD thesis). Nowadays microbiome studies have highlighted their importance in many other species, from corals to humans, or including an important research line of Horizon Europe project, linked to ‘One Health’, microbiome composition of soil and/or phytobiome as special point to plant protection and health, as with the problem with Xylella fastidiosa. In this last point, we are integrated in the PTI-Xylella, with a new set up BSL-2 lab.
> GroEL-driven functional innovation. Molecular chaperones like GroEL have been implied in the maintenance of biological system under strong deleterious mutations accumulation regimes, either imposed (like vertical transmission of (endo)-symbionts in aphids) or under experimental evolution. And seems that is the driver of functional innovation on these species, as this protein has other moonlighting functions that should be unveiled and that can have biotechnological applications (like microorganism improvement as biofactories). Indeed, GroEL can be used as trap for other microorganisms, or used as biological weapon (as already done by antlions). Even more, GroEL is a central hub in bacterial proteome, not only working on heat stress relieve, it is involved in mutational buffering effects on a big number of client proteins, many of them essential for microorganism survival (PhD thesis project of Roser Montagud). We have identified a side-effect of this mutational buffering, affecting the antibiotic resistance profile of the evolved lines (RM thesis). The characterization of interaction between mutational buffering and antibiotic resistance networks will unveil new drug targets, new antimicrobial molecules or new moonlighting functions for GroEL.
> Gene duplication as source of functional innovation (with Dr. C. Toft, I2SysBio). Functional innovation through gene duplication has been a paradigm over the last 40 years (whole genome or small scale duplications events), being behind many of the major steps in evolution (rise of flowering plants, appendices in vertebrates, etc). Over the last 5 years we have unveiled that genes keep as duplicates are involved in stress response in yeast (F. Mattenberger’s PhD thesis) with differences between SSDs and WGDs, and identifying mutational hotspots that increases the functional divergence between copies. A core stress-response has been unveiled, and remain one the on-going projects with yeasts.
> Oxidative stress as driver for functional innovation (with Dr. C. Toft and Dr.s M. Miguel, CIAL and M. Garcés, UFV). Oxidative stress has been highlighted as central for cell evolution, ageing or longevity linked studies. Here applying all our knowledge on oxidative stress response and characterization of their effects on phenotypes, we are able to unveil basic mechanisms involved in ageing, or in the relief of oxidative stress with biotechnological applications in the field of biomedicine.