Project ImmuNov: genomics and epigenomics of immune innovations in insects

The birth of novel functional genes is one of the principal processes contributing to evolutionary innovation. Comparative genomics enables the study of gene repertoire evolution, mapping gain and loss of genes across phylogenetic nodes. However, newly identified genes, sometimes only present in a limited number of taxa, can be difficult to functionally annotate, and genomics studies often fail to identify genes that have acquired novel functions and how they integrate into pre-existing conserved gene pathways. Fortunately, recent advance in other omics methods, such as transcriptomics and epigenomics, provide important complementary resources to genome studies. 
With the project ImmuNov, our aim is to understand how novel genes, and genes with a novel function, can integrate into pre-existing highly conserved gene networks and how their expression is regulated. As a functional model, we will use the innate immune system of insects, which is both highly conserved in its core set of genes and signaling pathways, and one of the fastest evolving biological functions, displaying a high rate of gene gains and losses across the insect phylogeny. 
To achieve this, we will perform a screen of immune-induced gene expression across phylogenetically diverse insect species through experimental infections, and identify common sets as well as taxon-specific immune-induced genes. We will test the role of epigenetic mechanisms to control the expression of immune genes in response to infections. Finally, we will reveal the evolutionary history of immune-induced genes and test whether taxon-specific immune genes exhibit specific epigenetic signature. 
This project will provide insights into fundamental functional aspects of the genomic and epigenomic basis of immunity in insects beyond the Drosophila model, insights which are not attainable with comparative genomics alone.

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