Our main research interest is focused on understanding how genetic & environmental factors are shaping quantitative variations in sexual reproduction processes in plant populations. We aim to use our knowledge to improve plant breeding methods to improve future food security. Our group is combining populations genetics, cytogenetics, and quantitative genetics, and we are using both computational and wet lab approaches.

Here is a brief summary of our main research project.

Meiotic recombination, pollen size, and selection in rye (Secale cereale) under the effects of abiotic stress caused by 140 years of monoculture

Plant breeding largely relies on the generation of novel allelic combinations through meiotic recombination and cross-pollination throughout sexual reproduction to achieve crop improvement. These processes are collectively referred to as genetic shuffling. At the same time, recombination rate variation and cross-pollination are major evolutionary forces in plant populations. Many crops essential to human nutrition, such as barley, wheat, and rye, comprise large heterochromatic genomes where approximately 30% of all genes are located in low-recombining heterochromatic regions, rendering these genes inaccessible to breeding efforts. These genomic regions tend to harbour genes involved in basic cellular processes such as photosynthesis, thereby holding promise for future crop improvement under changing climate conditions.

Genetic shuffling processes, both meiotic recombination and cross-pollination, are at their very core genetically determined developmental programmes governed by a multitude of more than 80 genes currently described in plants. However, both are also known to be affected by environmental conditions, shaping quantitative differences and mediating changes in patterns of diversity throughout evolution.

Our project aims to understand the genetic architecture underlying variation in recombination rates, pollen size, and patterns of selection in response to abiotic stress caused by long-term monoculture.

To achieve this, we will take advantage of a long-term field trial in which a genetically divergent rye population is subjected to the effects of abiotic stress caused by 140 years of monoculture. The project will focus on three objectives: (1) to reveal the genetic architecture underlying recombination rate variation in response to abiotic stress and based on genetic divergence, (2) to investigate pollen size variation caused by abiotic stress and genetic divergence and identify the underlying genes, and (3) to explore patterns of selection imposed by abiotic stress and how variation in recombination and pollen size affect allele frequency changes.