abderrahman khila
International Postdoctoral Fellow, Morocco

e-mail: abderrahman.khila@mcgill.ca

The developmental, genetic, and adaptive bases of morphological evolution:
Understanding the patterns and processes of morphological evolution is a major goal in evolutionary biology. My current research focuses on the semi-aquatic bugs (Hemiptera, Gerromorpha) to investigate how the combined action of evolving developmental genetic pathways and natural selection can contribute to the emergence of adapted traits.

Semi-aquatic bugs are model systems for multiple fields of study, including ecology and evolutionary biology, population genetics, phylogenetics, and biomechanics. This group contains over 1900 described species, with highly innovative morphologies that are strikingly adapted to their various aquatic habitats. Appendages constitute one of the most diverse structures across this lineage in terms of shapes and sizes, between segments of a single individual, between sexes, as well as between species. Importantly, we have a good understanding of the ecological forces that shape this diversity, including interaction between the sexes, or adaptation to living in the water. This diversity offers a powerful model for identifying the genes and the genetic changes responsible for phenotypic variation within species, between populations, and across species.

Our approach to the study of morphological evolution in the semi-aquatic bugs integrates developmental genetics, transcriptomics, genomics, proteomics, and evolutionary ecology. With this bridging strategy, we hope to bring comprehensive answers to the origin of morphological diversity in this group and beyond.

Selected publication:
Khila A, Abouheif E, and Rowe L. 2009. Evolution of a novel appendage ground plan in water striders is driven by changes in the Hox gene Ultrabithorax. PLoS Genetics 5(7): e1000583. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000583

An evo-devo approach to the study of eusociality:
We are interested in investigating a fundamental question in evolutionary biology –the evolution and maintenance of eusociality in ants. This has important implications for social evolution as it provides insights into phenotypic plasticity and the interplay between social selective pressures and developmental genetic processes. The main focus is in investigating aspects of reproductive division of labor between queens and workers of multiple ant species, at the cellular, molecular and developmental levels

Selected publications:
Khila, A. and E. Abouheif, Evaluating the role of reproductive constraints in ant social evolution. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 2010. 365(1540): p. 617-30.

Khila, A. and Abouheif, E. (2008) Reproductive constraint is a developmental mechanism that maintains social harmony in advanced ant societies. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 105, 17884-17889.

Last update: Jan. 17, 2011