The role of the mitochondrial genome in promoting adaptation to climate change

A project undertaken at the School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, and supervised by Damian Dowling

Understanding how the energy producing (mitochondrial) genes of eukaryotes evolve is important because the mitochondria, and their diminutive genome, represent centrepieces of eukaryotic life. They provide eukaryotes with a highly efficient means of energy conversion, through oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS), and they are mediators of some of life's most vital biological processes.

Recent studies of human mtDNA sequences suggest that certain nucleotides within the mitochondrial genome enabled our ancestors to adapt to extreme temperatures, and were therefore fixed under natural selection. These conclusions are, however, tentative because they are based on correlations only.
We propose the first robust experiments of the hypothesis that the mtDNA is entwined in thermal adaptation, and thus the fate of our iconic species under climate change.

We will use natural populations of the fruit fly (D. melanogaster) to investigate this hypothesis.

We propose robust experiments of the hypothesis that the mtDNA is entwined in thermal adaptation, and thus the fate of our iconic species under climate change. We will use natural populations of the fruit fly (D. melanogaster) to investigate this hypothesis. 

Figure 1. Fruit fly populations are brought from the wild to the laboratory. Here, a group of flies are being anaesthetised, prior to being examined under a stereo microscope.


Figure 2. Once in the laboratory, fruit flies are kept in these plastic vials, with access to a potato- and yeast-based food substrate. The flies go through their entire life cycle in these vials.