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Research Project: Locust Sequencing as Genomic Infrastructure for the Study of Phenotypic Plasticity by the Behavioral Plasticity Research Institute (BPRI)

Location: Bee Research Laboratory

Project Number: 8042-21000-291-052-R
Project Type: Reimbursable Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Nov 1, 2020
End Date: Oct 31, 2024

Phenotypic plasticity - the ability of a genotype to produce different phenotypes in response to different environmental conditions - is a biological phenomenon observed in all living organisms. One of the most striking examples of coordinated phenotypic plasticity is found in locusts. Locusts are a special type of grasshopper capable of forming dense migrating swarms through an extreme form of density-dependent phenotypic plasticity. Cryptically colored, shy individuals (solitarious phase) can transform into conspicuously colored, gregarious individuals (gregarious phase) in response to increases in population density. The phenomenon, termed locust phase polyphenism, affects numerous locust traits including behavior, color, molecular biology, physiology, and ecology. As such, locust phase polyphenism is a powerful comparative system for understanding how gene expression and epigenetic regulation scale up to behavioral, physiological, and ecological interactions resulting in outbreaks, collective movement, and mass migration. Its evolution can also be studied across phylogeny. The Behavioral Plasticity Research Institute (BPRI) will use locust phase polyphenism as a model system to transform the way phenotypic plasticity is studied by liking sub organismal processes to the whole organism, populations, and ecosystems, and ultimately to the tree of life.

High-quality, whole genome assembly of six locust species, all from the genus Schistocerca, will be generated as part of integrative research activities through the Behavioral Plasticity Research Institute (BPRI). This will include three species that have convergently evolved locust phase polyphenism, plus three non-swarming grasshopper species that vary in their degrees of density-dependent phenotypic plasticity. These data, along with the many other activities of the BPRI, will lay the groundwork for the integrative study of phenotypic plasticity across model organisms from genomes to ecology and sustainability.