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Plant parasites cause big crop losses affecting the agricultural industry worldwide. One of the most devastating group of plant pests are members of the genus Meloidogyne, also known as root-knot nematodes. Although the reproductive mode of this genus ranges from sexual to asexual species, there is a strong correlation between virulence and asexual mode of reproduction. Furthermore, it has been observed that asexually reproducing Meloidogyne species can overcome plant resistance within a few generations, which poses interesting questions about the effect of their genomic background on their adaptability to new environments. Firstly, this study will aim to characterise the level of genome variation by assessing genomics differences between populations of various geographical origins. Next, this analysis will deliver in the short term genes evolving under purifying selection that might be important for parasitism, and in the long term loci that are potentially important for Meloidogyne species to adapt in different environmental conditions. Through GWAS we will be able to identify SNPs and changes in allele frequencies between virulent and avirulent populations, and thus pinpoint loci related to the ability to break down plant resistance. Finally, by sequencing the genomes of several species at different time periods we will be able to calculate the mutation rate, and thus be able to estimate when the switch to asexuality occurred. Overall, this project will aim to address the implications of the rise of asexuality in Meloidogyne species, the levels of variability in clonal eukaryotes, and provide novel tools for controlling these plant parasites.
I am interested in all aspects of evolutionary biology but especially in genome evolution in parasitic species. During my PhD (2010-2014) in Edinburgh, UK I used next-generation sequencing to resolve the phylogeny of the phylum Nematoda in collaboration with multiple labs across the world. I have contributed in the genomic analyses of multiple nematode species aiming to solve various biological questions ranging from identifying ancestral bacterial symbiosis to hybrid origins of speciation events. After the conclusion of my PhD, I spent the next 18 months working within the NORNEX consortium to produce genomic resources for the investigation into ash dieback disease. In parallel, I was also involved in producing the first complete genome of the water bear Hypsibius dujardini. Recently, I finished working on a project involving the genome assembly and annotation of the nematode Heligmosomoides polygyrus, a mouse parasite. My future research aims include addressing parasite-host interactions in an evolutionary background.
Tandonnet, S., Farrell, MC., Koutsovoulos, GD., et al., 2017. Sex- and Gamete-Specific Patterns of X Chromosome Segregation in a Trioecious Nematode. Current Biology, 28, 1, 93+. Doi: 10.1016/j. cub.2017.11.037.
Georgios Koutsovoulos, Sujai Kumar, Dominik R. Laetsch, Lewis Stevens, Jennifer Daub, Claire Conlon, Habib Maroon, Fran Thomas, Aziz A. Aboobaker, and Mark Blaxter, 2016. No evidence for extensive horizontal gene transfer in the genome of the tardigrade Hypsibius dujardini, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., 113(18), 5053-5058.
Mark Blaxter, Georgios Koutsovoulos, 2015. The evolution of parasitism in Nematoda, Parasitology, 142(S1), S26-S39.
Georgios Koutsovoulos, Benjamin Makepeace, Vincent N Tanya, Mark Blaxter, 2014. Palaeosymbiosis revealed by genomic fossils of Wolbachia in a strongyloidean nematode, PLoS Genetics, 10(6), e1004397. Doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1004397.
David H Lunt, Sujai Kumar, Georgios Koutsovoulos, Mark L Blaxter, 2014. The complex hybrid origins of the root knot nematodes revealed through comparative genomics, PeerJ, 2, e356. Doi: 10.7717/peerj.356.