My personal and professional adventure into Science

The pursuit of happiness – a Theridion grallator genome crowdfunding project

The pursuit of happiness: The basis of color in the happy face spider (Theridion grallator)

My friend and collaborator Stefan Prost is trying something new, to me. Genome Crowdfunding… I can only encourage you to pitch in and donate to the project, every $$ counts !! 🙂
Please go to the crowdfunding website to read more and to donate!

About the project

The Hawaiian happy face spider, T. grallator, is known for its striking color polymorphisms (variations within species), which include variable configurations of red, black, and white superimposed on a yellow background. We will use genomic sequencing to identify the genes responsible for color and pattern variation. This is interesting not only because the polymorphism is maintained across several different islands, but because other arthropods display similar patterns in the Hawaiian forests.

What is the context of this research?

The happy-face spider is a classic example of polymorphism (showing a variety of patterns) in nature, but there have been few studies to examine this at the gene level in arthropods. In the happy face spider, we observe the repeated evolution of color and pattern, also known as convergent evolution. From previous work, we know that the same color and patterns have evolved on different islands, but through different genetic mechanisms. This demonstrates that nature has come up with the same solution in different ways. Additionally, we know that two-thirds of a happy face population are yellow individuals and one-third is patterned. Researchers have hypothesized that this ratio is driven by a predator search image, but we can learn more by looking at the genetic code!

What is the significance of this project?

Understanding how diversity arises in natural systems is a pressing question, but until recently we have lacked the genomic and genetic resources to understand underlying evolutionary patterns. Using a genetic approach in happy-face will provide insight into genes which underlie color variation in arthropods and how morphological changes reflect ecological adaptation, which can lead to diversification. The past work on happy face makes it an ideal system, because we know how genes are inherited on each island. It is important not only to conserve our present species, but to understand how the diversity we see today was produced. In systems such as happy face, we have a unique chance to follow along with evolution, which can provide answers into ensuring its future survival.

What are the goals of the project?

The goal of this project is to identify gene loci or genomic regions associated with color and pattern variation in the happy face spider. We will use the high-quality genome obtained through this work and previously collected data to identify regions associated with color variation. From this, we will be able to understand the underlying genetic mechanisms which produce different colors and patterns. Additionally, we can gain insight into how selective pressures contribute to maintaining the amazing variety of morphs in the happy face. We hope to use this iconic species to communicate how important genomics can be to understanding diversity and hope to provide a basis for other researchers to understand how color and morphology may function in other arthropod systems.

Please go to the crowdfunding website to read more and to donate!

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