This action funds an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology for FY 2020, Broadening Participation of Groups Under-represented in Biology. The fellowship supports a research and training plan for the Fellow that will increase the participation of groups underrepresented in biology. The Fellow will conduct research on the interactions between jimson weed (Datura wrightii) and tobacco hornworms (Manduca sexta) and receive training in bioinformatics techniques. The research project will generate a wealth of genetic data on species of interest that can be used by the Fellow, future students, and the field of evolutionary genetics to generate and test hypotheses regarding the evolution of plant-insect interactions. One of these species is a major crop pest, thus, this research will also contribute to the development of novel pest-control methods. The Fellow will engage in outreach activities with Native American communities and students, to exchange modern and traditional agricultural practices with Native American communities on multiple reservations throughout Arizona in addition to providing Native students with hands-on research experience.
The Fellow will work towards two research goals: 1) produce a high-quality reference genome for D. wrightii for comparison of that to M. sexta, and 2) re-sequence individuals of both species from across the Southwest to conduct a population genomics analysis of the coevolutionary dynamics. In comparing the reference genomes of D. wrightii and M. sexta the Fellow will test for the presence of synchronized gene duplication events, a molecular signature of antagonistic coevolutionary history. The approach used in the second objective will allow the Fellow to distinguish among four coevolutionary models of mutualism â€“ mutual matching, sanctions, partner fidelity feedback, and signaling and recognition â€“ to understand if and how mutualistic coevolution between D. wrightii and M. sexta has shaped their interactions. Together, these results will illuminate the relative importance of antagonistic and mutualistic pressures in shaping plant-insect interactions. It is possible for both forms of coevolution to act simultaneously, individually, or not act in this system (if traits evolved in response to other environmental pressures). As such, this study will provide broad insights into the coevolutionary dynamics of a multifaceted plant-insect interaction. The impact of the work will be broadened through student mentoring, and public and educational outreach through programs that serve Native American students and communities.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.