Laboratory of Artificial
& Natural Evolution

(Michel C. Milinkovitch’s lab)

 
 

Introduction. The core activities in my laboratory have revolved these last 10 years around three domains of Evolutionary Genetics: Conservation Genetics, Molecular Phylogenetics, and Applied Evolutionary Genetics. Although we will continue working on a selected small number of issues within some of these disciplines, the majority of our activities now relates to two fascinating and promising challenges in evolutionary biology: Evolutionary Developmental Genetics (EvoDevo) and The Physics of Biology.


EvoDevo: Given that a large proportion of evolutionary mechanisms, namely, those pertaining to natural selection, act on the phenotypes that originate from development, our understanding of both evolution and development would greatly benefit from the partial merging of the two above-mentioned disciplines into what is called today Evolutionary Developmental Biology (EvoDevo). This discipline explicitly addresses the generative mechanisms underlying the evolution of organismal forms on both short-term and long-term timescales. Uncovering these mechanisms will require the use of many additional models beyond the fruit fly and the mouse. We recently developed multiple non-classical model systems in vertebrates for Evo-Devo studies, including reptilian and mammalian species. Furthermore, Evo-Devo studies are, by essence, highly multidisciplinary and integrative as they require investigation, across lineages, of morphological/ physiological, as well as of the underlying genomic, characters. This explains that my laboratory includes Evolutionary and Developmental Biologists, but also Computer Scientists, Engineers and Physicists. Our research in EvoDevo revolves around understanding the evolution and development, in amniotes, of skin appendages (scales, hair, ...) as well as skin colour patterns. Several of these projects include a strong Physics of Biology component as they pertain to the evolution and development of epithelial structures (see below).


Physics of Biology: Remarkably, many questions in EvoDevo are conceptually similar to those investigated in soft-matter physics, statistical physics, and mechanics. For example, self-organizational capabilities of cells and tissues and the role of geometry and form are pertinent to EvoDevo at multiple scales and multiple levels of analysis. In collaboration with Bastien Chopard (Computer Science, UniGE), Marcos Gonzalez-Gaitan (Biochemistry, UniGE), Aurélien Roux (Biochemistry, UniGE), and Andreas Wagner (UniZH), we have built the EpiPhysX consortium (funded by SystemsX.ch), with the aim to understand how the interactions between physical (e.g., mechanical stress) and biological (e.g., signaling, proliferation) parameters explain the 3D organization of the developing embryo. More information is available HERE.

Similarly, we have built the United Living Colours “dot CH” consortium (funded by the Swiss National Foundation SINERGIA multidiciplinary program) together with Dirk van der Marel (Quantum Materials Group, UniGE) and Matthias Zwicker (Computer Graphics Group, UniBE). In this project, we investigate the complex interactions between light and the vertebrate skin and how they generate a variety of astonishing phenomena of significant fundamental and applied interest. More information is available HERE


NEWS:


    

EpiPhysX: the Physics of Epithelia
Check here (English version) the movie describing our new research project funded by the Swiss initiative in systems biology.

French version available here.



United Living Colors of Lizards. We show in the journal ‘BMC Biology’ that extensive variation in Phelsuma lizard color patterns is generated by co-localized interacting pigmentary and nano-structural elements.

Supersense: it’s a snap for crocs. We show in the journal ‘EvoDevo’ that integumentary organs in crocodiles are remarkable multi-sensorial micro-organs.


How snakes smell with their tongue. We show in ‘Genome Biology & Evolution’ how squamate reptiles adapted the vertebrate ancestral chemoreceptor toolkit to exploit the terrestrial environment.


Cracking the Code of Crocodile Scales. We show in ‘Science’ that Crocodile Head Scales Are Not Developmental Units But Emerge from Physical Cracking




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