Nicolas Rohner

Nicolas Rohner

My graduate studies in the laboratory of Dr. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard at the Max-Planck-Institute in Tuebingen focused on the genetic basis of morphological traits (e.g fins and scales) in the adult zebrafish and natural fish populations. These experiences laid the groundwork for my interest in using genetic, genomic, and functional approaches to address interdisciplinary questions in developmental biology and evolutionary genomics.

To further deepen my understanding of these fields and to extend my knowledge to other model systems, I joined the laboratory of Dr. Cliff Tabin. Here, I have largely focused on the cavefish model system Astyanax mexicanus. In particular, I am currently working on the evolution of morphological (eye and pigmentation loss), behavioral (feeding and schooling behavior), and physiological (metabolic) traits that allowed Astyanax mexicanus to thrive in caves, as well as on the role of standing genetic variation in adaptation. In addition, I played a key role in the genome analysis of three important genome sequencing projects, the lamprey, the coelacanth, and Astyanax mexicanus itself, examining species representing critical branch points on the tree of life. In parallel, I have used a whole genome approach, aligning primate and mammal genomes to unravel the genetic basis of human specific regulatory function by focusing on deletions unique to the human genome. This work has led to the identification of cis-regulatory elements underlying human specific craniofacial characteristics (smaller skull and teeth). These whole genome approaches are providing a foundation and context to address more specific questions about the genetic and developmental mechanisms and bases of evolutionary transitions, both within as well between different species.

In the future, I plan to use genomic, as well as functional approaches to continue my work on the adaptation of the cavefish Astyanax mexicanus and its relation to the ecological context, the extreme and isolated cave environment. Particularly, I propose to take advantage of the newly available cavefish genome to unravel the genetic basis of morphological and physiological adaptations to new and extreme environments, with a larger focus on metabolic adaptations (such as feeding, appetite, and lipid metabolism).

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In lab: 2010-01-18~2015-08-31.