Evolutionary Genetics of the Embryo Mortality Puzzle in the Zebra Finch

Abstract It is one of the most fundamental puzzles in evolutionary biology why many animal species show high rates of reproductive failure despite the fact that natural selection should be acting against this in every single generation. For instance, in humans, it is estimated that two out of three fertilized eggs die before birth, and it is still not understood why such a wasteful system has evolved. The case of the zebra finch also represents such a puzzle, because we see high rates of embryo mortality that cannot be attributed to trivial phenomena like environmental effects or inbreeding. The project will combine the use of various genomic tools and QTL mapping with setting up specific experimental crosses to identify and characterize the genetic factors that lead to embryo mortality. In particular, we will attempt to understand better the evolution of incompatibility-causing loci and of selfish genetic elements.

Key words genomics, QTL mapping, genetic incompatibility, selfish DNA, infertility

Main advisor Wolfgang Forstmeier, MPIO Seewiesen

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