Alessia Russo

Alessia Russo

PhD student

Tel.: +41 (0)44 634 83 29


2017.01 – present Ph.D in Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, University of Zurich. Topic: “Genomics of early-evolving reproductive barriers in orchids”
2013.10 – 2015.12 MSc in Genetic Sciences and Biotechnologies, BIOGEM Genetic Research Institute, Ariano Irpino (AV), Italy. Topic: “A study on performance evaluation of gene fusions detection algorithms”
2009.09 – 2013.03 BSc in Biological Sciences, University of Messina, Italy. Topic: “Synthetic Biology and new frontiers of genetic engineering”

Research Interest

Orchids, including more than 25000 species, comprise one of the largest families in plant kingdom. Their outstanding variation of floral forms and pollination systems have always fascinated evolutionary biologists. Some intriguing varieties of orchids evolved the pollination modality of pseudocopulation. Their flowers mimic the mating signals of their pollinator females to attract male pollinators. This phenomenon was observed for the first time by A. Pouyanne (1916), and it was therefore called “Pouyannan mimicry”, even if it’s more often known as “sexual deception/mimicry”. Pollination by sexual deception has independently evolved in (at least) Europe, Australia, South Africa and South America.

Sexual deception is found in Europe in the genus Ophrys. Ophrys flowers imitate female insects in shape, colours and odours, in order to attract male pollinators that try to copulate with the flower labellum. Since the interaction between flower and pollinator is strongly species-specific, pollinators are thought to play an important role in the generation of novel floral forms and the maintenance of species diversity in orchids. This highly specific Ophrys–pollinator relationship represents the main mechanism of reproductive isolation between many Ophrys species.

My research seeks to understand the genomic and molecular basis of pollinator-mediated reproductive isolation and ecological speciation between these Ophrys species. In particular, my aim is to identify and characterize genomic loci involved in pollinators attraction. This will be done by producing a genome assembly and annotation data, carrying out linkage analysis, population genetic analysis to study the architecture of traits controlling pollination among different Ophrys species. Results from this research will be informative of how pollinator-mediated selection results in genetic changes and speciation within this genus.

Ph.D Supervisor: Philipp Schlüter