Gene to Gaia: habitat filtering on a global scale in the nematode Caenorhabidits elegans

Sterken, M. G. (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentationOther


The distribution of organisms across terrestrial ecosystems is a fundamental component of the biosphere. We have long explored the global patterns in aboveground organisms and population genetics has revealed a wealth of evidence for the molecular, and evolutionary mechanisms underlying these biogeographic distributions. However, for soil organisms we lack even the most basic information about the forces affecting their distribution.
Here, we use whole-genome sequencing data from over 150 genetically diverse C. elegans isolated over the entire globe. In order to identify gene-habitat relations, we associate polymorphisms with environmental conditions at the site of isolation. These two sources of information allow identification of specific genes that underpin the biogeography of this species. First, species distributions in relation to multiple abiotic factors can be assessed. Moreover, using GWAS genetic associations between polymorphisms and environmental conditions can be identified. In this manner, we identified a strong association with soil pH and a region on chromosome II. This region harbors several candidate genes, including the proton-pump component vha-4, thereby it links genetic information to habitat information.
In this research, we present the concept of linking habitat information to genetic information using GWAS. Although GWAS as a concept is not new, here we link ecosystem variation to genetic information. With the current increase in sequencing capacity, this method will be available for many ecological studies, making it possible to identify gene to Gaia relationships across species.
Period23 Nov 2017
Event titleZoology 2017
Event typeConference
LocationWageningen, Netherlands
Degree of RecognitionInternational