Population genetics of maternal effects and their influence on molecular evolution (Visiting Scholar)
A major hypothesis in Evo-Devo is that early development must be highly constrained by selection to preserve downstream developmental pathways and viable adult phenotypes. However, the earliest expressed genes, mRNAs that mothers deposit into eggs, have high levels of polymorphism and divergence, at odds with this hypothesis though consistent with population genetic theory assuming alleles are only exposed to selection in females. This may have consequences for the long term fate of maternal effect genes, switches between maternal and zygotic expression, the time until the zygotic genome is activated and other critical features of early development. In addition to exploring these broad consequences of maternal gene expression, I will also consider how selection among families and populations may influence selection on maternal-zygotic gene combinations; this may have implications for the evolution of complex traits and the potential genetic and phenotypic trajectories of populations. Combined, I hope to use population genetic theory, sequenced genomes and published genetic experiments to explore an important developmental trait (the early expression of maternal mRNAs and the activation of the zygotic genome) as well as an important population genetic question (the relative influence of family level selection).