Genomics of Hybrid Sterility

To understand patterns of biodiversity it is essential to characterize the processes by which new species arise and are maintained in nature. Over the last decades, two major approaches have yielded remarkable advances in understanding the genetic basis of speciation – mapping reproductive isolation traits using crosses between species in the laboratory, and characterizing gene flow across natural hybrid zones. Yet, these approaches are rarely combined because few species with hybrid zones offer expansive genetic toolkits. We integrate systems genetic studies of mice from a natural hybrid zone and laboratory crosses between inbred strains to investigate hybrid male sterility, a key reproductive barrier between house mouse subspecies.

The long-term goals of our research are to (1)  identify variation in genes and gene networks contributing to reproductive isolation in natural populations of mice, (2) characterize the effects of gene variants on protein abundance, structure, and function, and (3) measure the effects of these variants on organismal fitness. Although the central focus is understanding mechanisms of speciation, our research is also relevant to gene networks, genetic variation in nature, complex trait genetics, fertilization and development.