|2013 – present||PhD studies in Evolutionary Biology. Institute of Systematic Botany, University of Zurich. Topic: “Causes and consequences of epigenetic variation in plant interactions with pollinators and herbivores”.|
|2012 – 2013||MSc in Systematics and Evolution. Institute of Systematic Botany, University of Zurich. Topic: “Development of a virus-induced gene silencing system for Ophrys sphegodes and Erycina pusilla (Orchidaceae)”|
|2008 – 2012||BSc in Biology. University of Zurich.|
There is increasing evidence that epigenetic processes can stably alter phenotypic traits without introducing changes in DNA sequence, sometimes over multiple generations. In plants, interactions with enemies such as herbivores can trigger heritable epigenetic changes, and traits important for pollination such as floral symmetry can be regulated in an epigenetic fashion. However, the role of epigenetic mechanisms in co-evolution of different plant-insect relationships is still not fully understood.
My study aims to shed light on the epigenetic crosstalk between the model crop plant species Brassica rapa and its different insect visitors: 1) Do biotic stresses such as herbivory lead to changes in DNA methylation in B. rapa? 2) Are these epigenetic changes heritable? 3) Do these epigenetic changes alter the floral phenotype of B. rapa? 4) Does an altered floral phenotype affect plant-pollinator interactions? 5) What are the downstream genetic targets of the induced changes in DNA methylation?
Preliminary evidence suggests that herbivore damage in B. rapa can cause significant changes to DNA methylation patterns in leaves. Also, demethylation leads to changes in the expression in a number of floral volatile compounds that may affect plant-insect interactions. Future work will use an epi-genome-wide association study (EWAS) approach to test for associations between individual methylation sites across the genome that change as a result of herbivory, and correlations between these sites with floral signals and pollinator attractiveness.