School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

Dr Yannick Wurm

Yannick

Senior Lecturer in Bioinformatics

Email: y.wurm@qmul.ac.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7882 3049
Room Number: Room 5.21, Fogg Building

Undergraduate Teaching

  • Research Methods and Communication II (BIO309)
  • Ecological and Evolutionary Genomics (BIO321)

Tutorials

  • Practical Molecular and Cellular Biology (Tutorials) (BIO190)
  • Practical Biology (Tutorials) (BIO192)
  • Research Methods and Communication (Tutorial) (BIO209)

Postgraduate Teaching

Some of the materials Yannick uses for teaching are on his lab website.

Research

Research Interests:

For full information about Yannick's work, his laboratory and latest news visit his lab's research website.

Our lab has four major research themes.

Molecular-genetic mechanisms and tradeoffs underpinning social evolution

Social animals exhibit a broad range of behaviours, and some theoretical understanding exists of the tradeoffs between different forms of social organisation. However, we know little about the genes and processes underpinning social organisation or how it evolves. The diversity of social behaviours across the 20,000 species of ants presents unique opportunities to empirically understand the mechanisms and tradeoffs involved in social change. We use highly molecular approaches, including genomics, bioinformatics, behavioural and field work to address major questions about social evolution. We discovered that social chromosomes in fire ants and in Alpine silver ants determine whether colonies have one or multiple queens. We are clarifying how these systems evolve, finding multiple olfactory gene differences between social chromosome variants, extensive differences in genetic diversity between supergene variants, and that DNA is accumulating in one young social chromosome variant. We are broadly interested in identifying and characterising genomic changes involved in social evolution and social behaviour. Our work has major implications on understanding the evolution of complex and novel phenotypes.

Pollinator health

Effective pollination is crucial for the stability of the ecosystem, and for crop productivity. Governments had approved what they thought were "safe" levels of pesticides. But in fact, the pesticides are generic neurotoxins: they reduce the learning abilities, dexterity, foraging ability and ultimately survival of pollinators that consume nectar or pollen. As a result, several commonly used pesticides have now been banned.

There is thus an urgent need for approaches that are more powerful and more sensitive. The 50,000-fold drop in the cost of DNA sequence over the past 10 years has completely changed medical research and practice. Inspired by the changes, we are developing high-resolution molecular diagnostics approaches for pollinator health – these are poised to fundamentally change for the better how research on pesticides is performed and the mechanisms through which such crop chemicals are evaluated by regulatory agencies.

Evolutionary genomics

We are broadly interested in the mechanisms and the forces involved in genomic evolution. This includes work on how processes such as concerted evolution and gene duplication can underpin phenotypic stability and novelty. Additionally, we are broadly interested in the evolution of "supergene" regions of suppressed recombination. We demonstrated that alternate versions of large supergene region of suppressed recombination containing >400 genes determines a major social and ecological trait in fire ants. We now know that suppression of recombination between the two variants of this "social chromosome" or "social supergene" is due to the existence of at least three inversions between the haplotypes. Intriguingly, the b variants only exists in heterozyguous form, and thus shared characteristics of a young Y chromosome. For instance, we found that this variant has much lower genetic diversity than the normally recombining variant. Furthermore, we surprisingly found that the b variant has grown to be ~80% larger than the normally-recombining variant - a rarely documented example of degenerative expansion of a young supergene that is likely to precede the well-known loss of genetic material seen in old nonrecombining supergenes such as in Y chromosomes. Our work with this and other systems has broad implications for understanding the genomic constraints and conflicts underpinning the evolution of divergent and novel phenotypes.

Bioinformatics tools for genomic analysis

The recent 10,000-fold drop in the cost of DNA sequencing means that any lab can sequence anything - and lots of it. This brings exciting opportunities but also new challenges, in particular with regards to data handling, data analysis and visualization.

We develop innovative tools and approaches to facilitate modern biological work on established and emerging model organisms. We pay special attention to visualization and user experience. For example, we build the highly popular SequenceServer software that is used by individual researchers and community websites for analysis of public and private genomic data. Other tools include GeneValidator for curating protein sequences. Furthermore, we believe in reproducible research and respect best practices in software development and for computational analysis.

Further information and joining the lab

For more information on our reserach and how to join the lab for a postdoc or PhD, please visit our main research website.

Publications