Inside the Tangled Bank of Arthropods


I am a molecular evolutionary biologist, primarily interested in the interactions of arthropods with symbiotic bacteria, plants, and pesticides. My research focuses on trait and genome evolution that is driven by ecological interactions and toxins.
As model systems, I mainly use plant feeding spider mites of three different genera; Tetranychus, Bryobia, and Brevipalpus, and their bacterial endosymbionts; Wolbachia, Rickettsia, Spiroplasma, and Cardinium. These arthropod herbivores display great variation in their host plant range with some species being strictly monophagous, whereas others are highly polyphagous.



Overdue for an update!

The last PhD chapter of Masoumeh is now published by PLOS Genetics! Here, we uncovered the complex genetic architecture underlying resistance to pyflubumide (a complex II inhibitor) by combining transcriptomic analyses and high-resolution genetic mapping. Two QTLs centered on cytochrome P450s that were overexpressed in resistant populations. We further corroborated the involvement of one of these P450s, CYP392A16, in resistance by in vitro functional expression and metabolism studies. Our genomic analyses also strongly indicated that gene amplification of CPR could enhance cytochrome P450-mediated detoxification, suggesting a novel molecular mechanism of toxicokinetic resistance.

In our research to study genetic conflict, we are currently tracking the spread of Wolbachia in replicated experimental populations that differ in their ability to suppress reproductive parasitism. We are at day 60 (approx. fifth-sixth generation) and already extracted DNA from 300 female mites. We took a risk, but are getting great results!  

Summer is over and I sampled my last T. urticae field population yesterday in the Beisbroek forest near Brugge.

I am very proud to announce that Masoumeh’s PhD thesis has been approved by the Doctoral Committee and that her doctoral defence ceremony will take place on November 17th at 15:00. Unfortunately, due to travel restrictions, the ceremony will mostly be virtual without in-person interactions. But everyone will be able to follow the procedures via a livestream!

Some weeks ago, I finished Martin Brasier’s truly excellent book Darwin's Lost World where he very clearly outlines the recent scientific discoveries and theories on the Cambrian explosion. The author also recounts his own wonderful personal research history and takes you to various remote locations across the globe where his key findings were made.

I am delighted to announce that BOF will be funding my research project The eco-evolutionary drivers of the Wolbachia pandemic in garden spider mites from October 2020. My host PI will be Dries Bonte at the Terrestrial Ecology lab of Ghent University.
I will continue my work on reproductive trait and genome evolution that is shaped by animal-microbe symbiosis. Although my main focal system remains Tetranychus and Bryobia spider mites, my research is now also incorporating other miniature beasts, including ants and silverfish.

Lately, I have been busy with generating a first set of phylogenomic trees to better understand the origin of an enigmatic clade of Wolbachia that is restricted to Bryobia spider mites. In addition, I have been enjoying some modest field work these last couple of weeks. Together with Thomas Parmentier, we have been collecting ants for collaborative projects!