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. A primary aim is to explore the rapid evolution of reproductive systems using the extraordinarily diverse male gametes (spermatozoa) and female reproductive tracts (FRTs) of beetles. The researchers will gather gamete-FRT structural, behavioral, and multi-omic data from ground beetles (family Carabidae), whirligig beetles (family Gyrinidae), and related beetles in the suborder Adephaga (~40,000 species) to expand our understanding of gamete-FRT co-diversification and its role in the genesis of new species. Male gametes are typically thought of as functioning as a single individual cell, but many ground and whirligig beetles make groups of them (often called ?conjugates?) by joining them together with a protein-rich rod that shows obvious differences between closely related species. These conjugates travel cooperatively within the FRT, but individual male gametes must dissociate prior to fertilization. The researchers will leverage and further develop the adephagan beetle system to advance the field of evolutionary biology and male-female interactions by further promoting the career of a postdoctoral researcher in the sciences as well as by including middle school and undergraduate students from groups that are also historically underrepresented in STEM disciplines in various phases of the project, from the collection of specimens via guided hikes to laboratory exercises working with beetles.

The researchers will sample densely in Carabidae and Gyrinidae, gathering multivariate gamete and FRT morphological data for ~300 species, together with in vivo studies, which will be analyzed in a phylogenetic framework to resolve the biology of male gamete-FRT interactions and patterns of gamete-FRT co-diversification and rate co-variation across these lineages. Gamete-FRT co-diversification may be an "engine of speciation," but this prediction has never been tested. Lineage diversification rates and evolutionary rates of male gamete and FRT traits will be inferred for the adephagans to test the prediction that species with more elaborate spermatozoa will have faster speciation rates. Testis transcriptomes and gamete free spermatostyle proteomes of select species representing independent spermatostyle origins will be generated to explore the genetic and structural basis of this unusual phenotype. The project?s outreach program will (1) encourage natural history investigations by middle-school students, (2) outfit a mobile lab to bring the same educational content to classrooms, and (3) include LSAMP undergraduate students in both research and outreach.

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.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
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John Barthell
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Gomez, Roberto Antonio
United States
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