In my research group, we are interested in the contribution of the mitochondrial genomes to the evolution of life-histories. Genetic variation within the mitochondrial DNA sequence was traditionally assumed to be neutral to selection. This assumption has, however, been seriously challenged over the past decade. There are strong theoretical reasons to believe that mtDNA sequences will accumulate functional genetic variation (i.e. genetic variation that changes the phenotype) under both non-adaptive and adaptive processes. Furthermore, maternal inheritance of the mitochondria renders the mtDNA prone to the accumulation of sex-specific variation, via alleles that are benign or beneficial to females, but harmful to males. In this seminar, I will present the results of experiments from my group that suggest that both mutation accumulation and adaptation are important in shaping patterns of mitochondrial sequence variation. I will also discuss the implications of our findings for our understanding of key biological concepts, including the evolution of sex differences, adaptation under sexually antagonistic selection, and the capacity of our native flora and fauna to cope with ever increasing climatic stress.
Damian Dowling is an Associate Professor and ARC Future Fellow, at the School of Biological Sciences at Monash University. He completed his PhD studies in 2004 at the University of Melbourne, before embarking on postdoctoral research at Uppsala University in Sweden, working with Professor Göran Arnqvist, and then the University of Western Australia, with Professor Leigh Simmons. In 2009, he was awarded a Monash University Research Fellowship, and thus moved back to Melbourne. In 2010 he was awarded an ARC Australian Research Fellowship, and then a Future Fellowship in 2017. Damian is an evolutionary ecologist by training, who is broadly interested in adaptation under sexual selection and sexual conflict, life-history trade-offs, and the evolution of ageing. In recent years, he has been fascinated by the possibility that the mitochondria might play a role in mediating these processes.