Laboratoire de Génétique de l’Evolution

The Laboratoire de Génétique de l’Évolution was established in March 2016 on appointment of Paul Rainey to a Professorship at ESPCI. The team currently comprises two post doctoral fellows (Dr Steven Quistad (Marie Curie) and Dr Maxime Ardré (HFSP)), two PhD students (Mr Guilhem Doulcier (PSL) and Mr Charles Fosseprez (PSL)) with close ties to the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology and a continuous passage of delightful visitors.

The team harbours expertise in evolutionary biology, microbiology and genetics and aims, in conjunction with recent developments in millifluidic technologies at LCMD, to pioneer new approaches in experimental evolution and the engineering of microbial communities. More generally, the laboratory seeks a strongly quantitative understanding of evolutionary processes.

The evolution of biological complexity is central to LGE’s research programme. This complexity owes much to major evolutionary transitions that merged lower level self-replicating entities into corporate bodies. For example, the eukaryotic cell was formed by the merger of two once independently replicating bacterial-like cells. Similarly, the transition from single celled life to multicellular types involved the evolution of replicating collectives comprised of once independent cells.

While occurring rarely during this history of life’s evolution, new work has captured seminal events underpinning the emergence of multicellular life in real-time evolution experiments. These experiments not only show that that simple laboratory populations, if carefully manipulated, can shed light on some of life’s most profound questions, but they also pave the way for the development and exploitation of new technologies in soft matter physics.

Oil and water don’t mix, however, emulsions of oil and water create miniature droplets of water in a sea of oil, in which microbes can live. Such miniature culture systems provide opportunity to miniaturise and parallelise the growth of microbial populations and communities. Moreover, the ease with which droplets of microbes can be manipulated means that communities of microbes can become units of selection in their own right.

Combining new thinking in evolution with cutting-edge technologies in soft matter physics opens the door to new approaches for evolving microbial communities and even top-down engineering these in such as way as to generate new life forms, with new functions, for application in biotechnology, medicine and agriculture. Beyond this, there exist a range of fascinating questions concerning the evolutionary emergence of traits as fundamental as heredity and reproduction.