LERN conference 2016

NEW!  Programme and abstracts book available here: lern2016_abstract_book.pdf

Join us for a great day of discovering the great evolutionary research being done by fellow students and PostDocs from around London and beyond!

When and where: 9th November 2016, Fogg lecture theatre, Mile End Campus of Queen Mary University of London (Directions below)

Registration and cost: Free! Please register here, to give us an idea of numbers. We will supply coffee and lunch.


Keynote talks: As usual in the last few years, we have a theme for our keynote speakers: the Application of Evolutionary Principles to Agriculture and Medicine. This theme has received a lot of attention recently, having even gotten a special call from the BBSRC.Our keynote speakers are:

Dr Paul Neve (Rothamsted): Running to stand still’: The evolution of resistance to pesticides and drugs in agriculture and medicine

Professor Dallas Swallow (UCL): What can we learn from milk drinking? Life style changes and selection for adult lactase persistence

Keynote speaker abstracts:

‘Running to stand still’: The evolution of resistance to pesticides and drugs in agriculture and medicine.

 Paul Neve, Senior Research Scientist, Rothamsted Research

The adequate provision of safe and nutritious food in agriculture and the control of infectious disease are two of the greatest challenges facing human civilisation. Both endeavours are threatened by evolutionary forces which make pathogens and pests ever harder to control. In particular, the evolution of pesticide and drug resistance impacts the control of insect pests, weeds and pathogens in agriculture, and compromises the efficacy of antimicrobial and anti-cancer drugs. A good deal of research has resolved the physiological and molecular genetic mechanisms that enable organisms to resist these toxophores. As understanding of resistance mechanisms increases, there is now an opportunity to integrate across disciplines to unravel the eco-evolutionary drivers of pesticide and drug resistance, to move towards identification of general principles for resistance management. In this talk, using my own research to explore the ecological and evolutionary dimensions of evolution of resistance to herbicides, I will explore how an understanding of genetic architecture, fitness costs and co-variation in resistance traits can inform the design of rational resistance management strategies. In particular, I will consider how herbicide dose can impact evolutionary dynamics and how herbicide cycling (rotations), mixtures and sequences may be employed to delay the evolution of resistance. Integration of chemical, genetic, biological and cultural will be investigated as a means to slow evolution of resistance. This work is informed by a range of experimental evolutionary studies, using higher plants and model organisms and by modelling and simulation approaches. I will conclude with a consideration of the potential to identify common principles that can applied for the management of pesticide and drug resistance across diverse ecological contexts and treatment settings. This latter analysis is an outcome from an international workshop held in 2016 to bring together researchers working on eco-evolutionary dynamics and management of evolved resistance to pesticides and drugs across a range of diverse disciplines in agriculture and healthcare.

What can we learn from milk drinking? Life style changes and selection for adult lactase persistence

Prof. Dallas Swallow, Emeritus Professor of Human Genetics, UCL

The ability to digest milk as an adult is a recent evolutionary adaptation brought about by the ‘parallel’ positive selection of several different single nucleotide changes in an enhancer sequence upstream of the lactase gene. These substitutions affect lactase gene expression, but only in adults, and do so via different molecular routes to the same phenotypic outcome. The mechanism is not yet fully understood, but is now known to include age-related epigenetic changes that, in the enhancer region, behave in an allele-specific way. The mutations apparently arose in the last few thousand years in several different locations (probably Europe, the Near East and Africa) and the European allele shows one of the strongest signals of selection described in humans. Archaeological and ancient DNA evidence show that the spread of lactase persistence (from 5000 years BP) followed on after the spread of animal milking which can be traced to some 9000 years BP. Although it is clear that lactase persistence enabled the more efficient use of fresh milk as a food source, how this selection operated is not totally clear, particularly since fermentation of milk reduces the lactose, allowing a ‘cultural’ adaptation to milk consumption. However epidemiological evidence does suggest that there is a nutritional benefit from being lactase persistent, and milk as a source of water was undoubtedly important. Fresh milk was clearly a very nutritious dietary source for many, but in some of those people in whom lactase does not persist into adult life there can be severe adverse symptoms of diarrhea and flatulence, even on consumption of small amounts. This illustrates how policy makers should be aware that one size does not fit all, when giving dietary advice. But more broadly, this lactase example also tells us a great deal about the kinds of variants that we might expect to be functionally relevant in relation to susceptibility to multifactorial disease; namely that regulatory mutations are much more likely to become polymorphic, since they are more flexible to continued function than coding sequence changes. Positive selection at some disease susceptibility loci may be followed by life-style changes which then make those same variants disadvantageous.



9:30    Registration

10:00    Welcome

Session I

10:10    Keynote lecture:

Prof. Dallas Swallow (UCL) What can we learn from milk drinking? Life style changes and selection for adult lactase persistence.

11:00    Lucy van Dorp (UCL) Exploring the origins of farming using ancient DNA.

11:20     Carlos Martínez Ruiz (QMUL) Understanding the evolution of a social chromosome: a gene expression approach.

11:40    Coffee/Tea

Session II

12:00    Abrar Hussain (Rothamsted) Impact of evolutionary changes on nutritional value of wheat grain.

12:20    Kevin Carolan (Rothamsted) Strategies for integrated deployment of host resistance & fungicides to sustain effective crop protection

12:40    Saioa López (UCL) Genetic diversity and structure in human populations from Ethiopia and Sudan.

13.00    Lunch

Session III

14:00    Keynote lecture:

Dr. Paul Neve (Rothamsted) ’Running to stand still’: The evolution of resistance to pesticides and drugs in agriculture and medicine.

14:50   Katherine Brown (UCL) Past, present and future implications of amylase gene copy number variation.

15:10    Nicola Hawkins (Rothamsted) Fungicide resistance in saprophytes: unintentional selection in agriculture.

15:30    Coffee/Tea

Session IV

16:00   Charlotte Bickler (Royal Botanic Gardens) Adapting agriculture to climate change: characterising diversity in conservation collections of crop wild relatives.

16:13    Bruno Vieira (QMUL) Dealing with big genomic data using Bionode.io.

16:26    Liam Shaw (UCL) Perturbation and stability in the gut microbiome.

16:39    Guilherme Rossato (Rothamsted) Investigating the current status and predicting further evolution of azole fungicide resistance in the wheat pathogen Zymoseptoria tritici.



The conference will take place in the Fogg Lecture Theatre in the ground floor of the Fogg Building in the Mile End Campus of QMUL.

The Fogg Building is number 13 in the campus map and can be accessed from both Bancroft Road and from inside campus.

The nearest Tube stops are Stepney Green and Mile End. There are bicycle racks on Bancroft Road and dotted around campus.


This conference is funded by the QMUL Doctoral College