New paper: Mistranslation can be good!

Our work on ‘useful’ mistakes in bacteria (E. coli) is finally out! Laasya and Parth found that making rebel proteins not encoded by our DNA can be a good thing. In cells that frequently make mistakes, the accumulated ‘junk’ proteins end up triggering a high alert situation. This allows the cells to better deal with various external assaults (like increased temperature, damage to DNA and so on). When everything is normal this isn’t a big deal; in fact the junk makes cells mildly sick.  Under stress though, the high alert and error prone cells get the upper hand, leaving behind the more accurate (but less prepared) regular cells. For more: read the paper, and an NCBS news article. And, enjoy this summary cartoon from Pranjal Gupta!

Striking image with explanation

New paper: Methylobacterium distribution shaped by host rice

Bacteria are so small and so ubiquitous that it seems like they should be found everywhere. But recent work shows that much like animals and plants, most bacteria have discrete distributions. We asked: does host association shape bacterial distribution in nature? In Pratibha’s first paper from the lab, we describe how bacteria from the genus Methylobacterium are distributed across nearly 40 different rice landraces from Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. Collaborating with the labs of Shivaprasad and Radhika at NCBS, we found that bacterial carbon-use phenotypes are largely shaped by the landrace they inhabit. Suprisingly, sugar availability on rice leaves does not correlate with the carbon-use phenotypes, leaving us with many new questions. For more, read the paper. Meanwhile, enjoy this lovely illustration by Pranjal Gupta!


New paper: The little inhabitants of mighty dragon(flies)

Rittik Deb and Ashwin Nair’s paper on the gut bacterial communities of dragonflies is out! We sampled several species of dragonflies from different locations in India, and found that gut bacterial communities varied across host species, location, and season. For some of the dragonflies, we were also able to analyse gut contents, and found that these “generalist predators” eat quite different meals that probably end up introducing distinct bacteria in their guts. So, unlike in most other insects, dragonfly gut bacterial communities seem to be transient and are neutrally assembled (rather than host-selected). Read the paper for more details. Meanwhile, enjoy this beautiful summary of the paper by Pranjal Gupta!


Announcing the 2020 ICTS School on Population Genetics and Evolution

PopGen2020Kavita Jain and I are pleased to announce the fourth edition of the Bangalore School on Population genetics and Evolution. As always, we have an exciting speaker lineup, and we look forward to a group of enthusiastic participants. We invite applications from PhD students and postdocs (and exceptional MSc students) from biology, computer science, physics, or mathematics backgrounds. The key requirement is a strong interest in population genetics and/or evolutionary biology. Applications close 1 Oct 2019. For more information, see the school website.

2019 Conference season is upon us!

We are off to various conferences this year. Come listen to our talks, visit our posters, and talk science!

Aparna is already at Evolution 2019, to talk about the role of microbiomes during host adaptation in the Hamilton Award Symposium. We are rather proud that Aparna was selected to present as a finalist! She will also present a poster, and speak at the Story Collider event, Outside the Distribution. Do go talk to her!

In early July I will be at the Gordon Research Conference for Microbial Population Biology at Andover, NH, USA, presenting a poster on our beetle microbiome work. I’m super excited about this meeting, which is a great collection of microbially inclined folks.

Around the same time, Laasya will present a poster on her mistranslation work, at the EMBO|EMBL symposium on New approaches and concepts in microbiology in Heidelberg, Germany.

At the end of July, Parth and I will head to SMBE 2019 in Manchester, UK, presenting posters on the evolution and importance of translation and mistranslation, respectively. I am also organizing a symposium on the Causes of Parallel Molecular Evolution with Alex Couce. Come visit our posters, and listen to the amazing speakers in our symposium!

In August, Vrinda will be in Turku, Finland, speaking at ESEB 2019 about the population dynamics of laboratory-evolved beetles in new habitats. She has really fun data, so do check out her talk!

And finally, in the last week of August Laasya will present a poster and a talk at the FEMS summer school for postdocs: Bacterial robustness and mechanisms of death, in Split, Croatia.

New paper: Explaining population level variation in immune priming

Graphical Abstract_finalHere’s the latest from Imroze and Arun. A couple years ago we had found surprising levels of variability in immune memory (“priming”), across 10 wild-collected flour beetle populations (Khan et al 2016, Ecology and Evolution). In our new follow-up paper, we figured out what may explain this variation, by systematically analysing change in various fitness components in the populations, after priming. In a nutshell, it appears that priming is beneficial both for reproduction and for survival; but the relative benefits of priming may trade off. So, priming is stronger in beetle populations that are more susceptible to the pathogen; but it is weaker in populations that have a larger investment in fecundity after priming. Read the paper to find out more!

2019 Preparatory school on Population Genetics and Evolution

popgen2019-poster_smallKavita Jain (JNCASR) and I have organized a series of ICTS Schools on Population Genetics and Evolution since 2014. To help participants get better prepared for the next school (scheduled in 2020), we are now introducing a preparatory school in Feb 2019. The intensive 1-week school will introduce biologists to key mathematical tools, and non-biologists to key biological concepts.

Applications open on 15 Oct, and will be accepted until 15 Nov 2018. Find more information here.

Announcing the 2018 SPEEC-UP competition

Speecup poster 2018 finalI’m happy to announce that the 2nd edition of the SPEEC-UP 2018 meeting is open for abstracts. The meeting features student presentations (including research project staff and postdocs) on Ecology, Evolution, Environmental Sciences and Conservation. The meeting is organised by a bunch of folks from ATREE, IISc, NCBS, Dakshin, NCF, and WCS. 

This year, SPEEC-UP will be held at CES, IISc on 31st August 2018. Here is the link for abstract submission (deadline: 25th June).
This is a Bangalore centric student event to provide a platform for students and faculty to get together. There are prizes worth Rs 40k to be won, so do consider competing!

Update: The 2018 competition was a lot of fun. As always, I was amazed to learn about the wide diversity of work in my field that is happening in Bangalore. For a brief glimpse of the event, watch this!

Winter conference season

This winter is packed with exciting meetings! Here’s the menu:

Pratibha and I just returned from a fantastic SMBE satellite meeting in Kaziranga, Assam. Congratulations to Pratibha for getting a travel grant to present her work! The meeting brought together a bunch of people working on microbial evolution in natural and experimental populations. There was lively discussion on a wide range of topics in microbial evolution, good food, and of course, Rhinos. Big thanks to the key organizers, Siddartha Sankar Satapathy and Edward Feil!

Vrinda and I are now off to IISER Pune for a Conference on Evolutionary and Integrative Biology. The speaker lineup includes many seasoned and new evolutionary biologists across India, so we are looking forward to an exciting meeting.

Soon after this, the whole lab (and our campus) will participate in the 2018 NCBS Annual Talks. Mrudula, Rittik, Laasya, and Gaurav Agavekar will each present posters about their work; and Gaurav Diwan will present a short talk.

Finally, to conclude this conference season I will speak at an Indo-French workshop on Evolutionary Developmental and Cell biology (EVODECE) at the Observatoire Oceanologique de Banyuls sur Mer in France. The meeting is funded by CEFIPRA and DST, and features a very diverse collection of evolutionary and cell biologists from India and France.

Do come talk to us if you spot us at any of these events!

Summer travel

The conference season is suddenly upon us! The lab will be out in full force this year since many of the first people to join the lab have cool results to report. Everyone has received various competitive grants to help support their travel, which is superb news! We are all looking forward to good feedback and hearing about the latest in evolutionary biology from across the world. Do come and chat if you spot us.

Kruttika and Aparna are off to the Evolution meeting in Portland, Oregon. Aparna is supported by a DST travel grant.

Mrudula, Saurabh, Gaurav and I will be at the SMBE meeting in Austin, Texas. Mrudula has a DBT travel grant, Gaurav has a DST travel grant, and Saurabh has a CSIR travel fellowship.

After SMBE, Mrudula and I will hop over to the GRC on Microbial Population Biology in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, Saurabh will spend some time visiting labs in Boston and then attend the MBL Workshop on Molecular Evolution at Woods Hole. Saurabh has received funding support from MBL as well as CSIR.

In August, Mrudula, Gaurav and Saurabh will join me in Barcelona, Spain, to teach in the School of Molecular and Theoretical Biology.

Finally, to wrap up the summer: Aparna, Kruttika and I will participate in the ESEB meeting in Groningen, Netherlands. Aparna has received an ESEB travel award to attend this meeting.

New paper on the evolutionary implications of stress-induced mutations

Recently I wrote a Primer (a short tutorial/introduction for a subject of broad interest) to accompany a new paper in PLoS Biology demonstrating stress-specific mutation spectra in E. coli (Maharjan and Ferenci 2017). Stress-induced mutagenesis (SIM) is a fascinating phenomenon, whereby some organisms show a transient increase in mutation rates when exposed to stresses such as starvation. However, the evolutionary implications of this phenomenon have been controversial, and I give a brief introduction to this debate (and potential ways forward) in my Primer. In their paper, Maharjan and Ferenci show that not all stresses induce mutagensis, but each stress produces a unique distribution of mutational types. These results suggest that stress-specific mutation spectra may influence evolutionary trajectories in a stress-specific manner. This remains to be explicitly tested, but we are now a little bit closer to understanding the evolutionary consequences of SIM.

The Primer and the related paper are available online, if you would like to know more.

Goodbye Imroze!

We said a fond farewell to Imroze Khan, the first postdoc from the lab. Over the last 4 years or so, Imroze initiated and led work on the ecology and evolution of insect immune function. He is now an Assistant Professor at Ashoka University, where he will continue to work with insect life history and immune function.

Adaptation Lab

Welcome to Deepa Agashe’s lab at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore!

Organisms often face new, changing or otherwise challenging environments, which can drive evolutionary adaptations. However, different populations and species often respond differentially to the same environmental change, potentially altering their evolutionary trajectories. For instance, some organisms flourish in new environments, whereas others go extinct. What factors determine individual and population-level responses, and what are the processes and molecular mechanisms that mediate adaptation to new habitats? We are motivated by these broad questions at the forefront of research in ecology and evolutionary biology.