In nature, populations evolve in complex environments where multiple selective pressures, which we cannot manipulate and whose history is often unknown, act simultaneously. This makes it very difficult to establish relationships between environmental variables, the genetic changes that facilitate adaptation, and the phenotypes resulting from the expression of these new genotypes. These difficulties can be mitigated by performing evolutionary experiments in the laboratory, in which the variables can be precisely controlled. Although these experiments do not take into account the complexity of the real world, they offer a number of advantages, as they allow us to observe evolutionary dynamics in real time, to perform multiple replicates in parallel and, finally, to keep a fossil record of all the stages through which the study population has passed.
Our group’smain objective is to determine the molecular basis of biological adaptation, para lo que utilizamos diversos sistemas experimentalesusing a variety of experimental systems, especially bacteriophages. A large part of our studies are aimed at understanding how temperature – an environmental variable that conditions most life-related processes – influences the structure and behaviour of viral populations.
The types of questions we are trying to answer are: Can viruses adapt to replicate at high temperatures? How does intra-population diversity and mutant relationships change over the course of adaptation? Is it possible to select variants that have greater stability in the extracellular environment? Is it just as easy to adapt to an abrupt temperature change as to a gradual one? Are there differences in the subsequent evolution of populations that have evolved at different temperatures?
We are currently implementing new lines of research that will allow us to determine the resistance and evolutionary capacity of viruses and different bacterial species under environmental conditions that could occur on other planets, such as high radiation or exposure to successive freeze-thaw cycles.