Ecology and Evolution of cancer

Malignant cells have been influencing host life history traits since the transition from unicellular to metazoan life. These cells originate from normal cells that lose their cooperative behavior during the host’s lifetime, become malignant, and proliferate at greater rates than would normal cells. Even if they do not necessarily lead to invasive cancers, oncogenic phenomena are extremely prevalent in host populations, and not just in post-reproductive individuals as previously believed. As for microbiota and parasites, (i) host phenotypic traits might influence malignant cell dynamics, (ii) malignant cells might be responsible for host phenotypic alterations and (ii) environmental perturbations could impact malignant cell dynamics. Here, we propose to study these hypotheses with a multidisciplinary approach using comparative analyses using databases on life-history traits and cancer prevalence, field studies and lab experiments with a fish model.

 


Bird pigmentation 

In collaboration with Simon Ducatez (CREAF, Spain).   

 

We are currently developing a collaborative project on birds’ coloration aiming at building a database qualifying and quantifying the different pigments (mostly carotenoids, pheomelanin and eumelanin) present in the plumage of both sexes of each of the 10,000 bird species. This database will then be used to lead a range of comparative analyses investigating the evolution of pigmentation in birds, its integration in ecological, physiological and life history strategies, and its effects on diversification rates. To build this database, we are using Handbook plates, relating coloration to the pigments we know are involved. 


Telomere dynamic and transgenerational effects (little auk, common gull, zebra finch)

In collaboration with Tuul Sepp (University of Tartu, Estonia), Jerome Fort (LIENS, France), John Swaddle (College of William and Mary, USA) and Britt Heidinger (North Dakota University, USA). 

 

Telomeres are the evolutionarily conserved caps found at the ends of chromosomes that protect genomic integrity. These telomeres are particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress and appears to predict remaining lifespan in humans and wild animals. In this project, we assess how environmental conditions and the internal physiological state influence telomere dynamic, telomere length in gametes and in the next generation.  


Urbanization and wild populations of birds (house finch, great tit)
In collaboration with Kevin McGraw (Arizona State University, USA) and Tuul Sepp (University of Tartu, Estonia).

 

Urbanization has accelerated worldwide in recent decades, and now more than half of the human population lives in cities. This dramatic expansion of urban centers has come at the detriment of natural environments and putatively of the animals that inhabit them. Identifying precisely which components of fitness are constrained (or facilitated in some cases) by urbanization has been a challenge tackled by organismal biologists in recent years. In this project, we are assessing several biomarkers of organismal physiology in wild house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) along a gradient of urbanization in the Phoenix metropolitan area (Arizona, USA).

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