Our projects

What we do, why we do it, where we do it.

Ongoing projects

Evolutionary Ecology of Ageing
We study biology of aging at two time scales: individual lifespan and evolution.

The how of aging: We strive to mechanistically describe the changes that occur as individuals transition from being fit adults to more frail and eventually diseased. We explore how genetics and ecology affect aging at individual level.

The why of aging: We study the evolutionary causes underlying lifespan and aging phenotypes of species in nature. We explore how natural selection and neutral evolution contribute to the emergence of genetic variants causing long or short lifespan, slow or rapid aging.

Our work is highly multi-disciplinary and we use a combination of approaches, including molecular biology, comparative genomics, population genetics, computer simulations and experimental interventions.

Microbiome and aging
We explore the complex host-microbiome crosstalk during aging. We study whether and how hosts select their own microbiome community and how the microbiome, in turn, affects host phenotypes, including defense from pathogens, aging and lifespan. We ask whether commensal microbial taxa evolve into novel strains in the timescale of host aging and whether microbial evolution in turn exacerbates systemic aging and pathology.

Immune system
We are interested in the evolution of the adaptive immune system among closely-related killifish species in relation to the gain or loss of specific antibody classes, such as the fish “mucosal” IgZ/T. We study aging in the immune system, with a focus on clonal B cell diversity and on the impact of somatic mutations on B cell function. We investigate the role of adaptive immunity in the establishment of host-specific commensal microbial consortia and we study how aging of the immune system affects age-dependent shifts in microbiome composition.

African killifish

Our lab builds tools and protocols that help establish African killifish as a model of vertebrate aging, to fill the gap between experimentally short-lived invertebrates, such as C. elegans and Drosophila, and longer-lived vertebrate model organisms, such as mice and naked mole-rats.
By studying killifish, we seek to understand the molecular, cellular and physiological changes that occur during aging in vertebrates. We are broadly interested in the genomic basis for species-specific adaptations in killifish and we investigate the evolutionary basis for the natural diversity of adult lifespan across species within this group of fish. To explore phenotype and genome evolution in killifish, we sequenced and assembled several killifish genomes, available for anyone to browse on our killifish genome browser.

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Our main model system for experimental and field work is the African turquoise killifish (Nothobranchius furzeri), the shortest-lived vertebrate species bred in captivity. Turquoise killifish are naturally short-lived and recapitulate several aspects of human aging, including cancer, inflammation and dysbiosis.

Field research

We conduct field research in the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, which hosts natural populations of turquoise killifish.

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We study killifish in their natural habitat, mapping their distribution, ecology, demography and population genetics.