The evolutionary consequences of lateral gene transfer in grasses

Our previous work has shown that lateral gene transfer (LGT) is prevalent in grasses where it is responsible for spreading functional genes of adaptive significance between species. We are building on this work to understand the ecological drivers, evolutionary implications and the mechanisms behind these transfers.

Dunning et al. (2019) PNAS

Pan-genome variation and local adaptation in grasses

Not all individuals within an species have the same set of genes, and this gene content variation is likely to have important consequences for environmental adaptation. We are currently investigating the evolutionary drivers resulting in this mosaic pattern of gene presence, and trying to understand how this variation is distributed at different biological levels.

Adapting to life on the beach

Dune grasses have convergently evolved to tolerate an ecologically stressful cocktail of drought, salinity, high winds and burial under moving sand. They are also key ecosystem engineers that stabilise and maintain the sand dunes, the most at-risk habitat in Europe. We use cutting-edge genomic techniques and experimental approaches to understand how coastal beach grasses survive in an environment where the sands are literally shifting around them, and how these adaptive traits have evolved over time.  In collaboration with coastal ecologists and coastal engineers, we also aim to determine how genetic variation with a plant can translate to whole landscape changes