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1.  Population dynamics and habitat sharing of natural populations of Caenorhabditis elegans and C. briggsae 
BMC Biology  2012;10:59.
The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is a major model organism in laboratory biology. Very little is known, however, about its ecology, including where it proliferates. In the past, C. elegans was mainly isolated from human-made compost heaps, where it was overwhelmingly found in the non-feeding dauer diapause stage.
C. elegans and C. briggsae were found in large, proliferating populations in rotting plant material (fruits and stems) in several locations in mainland France. Both species were found to co-occur in samples isolated from a given plant species. Population counts spanned a range from one to more than 10,000 Caenorhabditis individuals on a single fruit or stem. Some populations with an intermediate census size (10 to 1,000) contained no dauer larvae at all, whereas larger populations always included some larvae in the pre-dauer or dauer stages. We report on associated micro-organisms, including pathogens. We systematically sampled a spatio-temporally structured set of rotting apples in an apple orchard in Orsay over four years. C. elegans and C. briggsae were abundantly found every year, but their temporal distributions did not coincide. C. briggsae was found alone in summer, whereas both species co-occurred in early fall and C. elegans was found alone in late fall. Competition experiments in the laboratory at different temperatures show that C. briggsae out-competes C. elegans at high temperatures, whereas C. elegans out-competes C. briggsae at lower temperatures.
C. elegans and C. briggsae proliferate in the same rotting vegetal substrates. In contrast to previous surveys of populations in compost heaps, we found fully proliferating populations with no dauer larvae. The temporal sharing of the habitat by the two species coincides with their temperature preference in the laboratory, with C. briggsae populations growing faster than C. elegans at higher temperatures, and vice at lower temperatures.
PMCID: PMC3414772  PMID: 22731941
2.  Role of Pleiotropy in the Evolution of a Cryptic Developmental Variation in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Biology  2012;10(1):e1001230.
Using vulval phenotypes in Caenorhabditis elegans, the authors show that cryptic genetic variation can evolve through selection for pleiotropic effects that alter fitness, and identify a cryptic variant that has conferred enhanced fitness on domesticated worms under laboratory conditions.
Robust biological systems are expected to accumulate cryptic genetic variation that does not affect the system output in standard conditions yet may play an evolutionary role once phenotypically expressed under a strong perturbation. Genetic variation that is cryptic relative to a robust trait may accumulate neutrally as it does not change the phenotype, yet it could also evolve under selection if it affects traits related to fitness in addition to its cryptic effect. Cryptic variation affecting the vulval intercellular signaling network was previously uncovered among wild isolates of Caenorhabditis elegans. Using a quantitative genetic approach, we identify a non-synonymous polymorphism of the previously uncharacterized nath-10 gene that affects the vulval phenotype when the system is sensitized with different mutations, but not in wild-type strains. nath-10 is an essential protein acetyltransferase gene and the homolog of human NAT10. The nath-10 polymorphism also presents non-cryptic effects on life history traits. The nath-10 allele carried by the N2 reference strain leads to a subtle increase in the egg laying rate and in the total number of sperm, a trait affecting the trade-off between fertility and minimal generation time in hermaphrodite individuals. We show that this allele appeared during early laboratory culture of N2, which allowed us to test whether it may have evolved under selection in this novel environment. The derived allele indeed strongly outcompetes the ancestral allele in laboratory conditions. In conclusion, we identified the molecular nature of a cryptic genetic variation and characterized its evolutionary history. These results show that cryptic genetic variation does not necessarily accumulate neutrally at the whole-organism level, but may evolve through selection for pleiotropic effects that alter fitness. In addition, cultivation in the laboratory has led to adaptive evolution of the reference strain N2 to the laboratory environment, which may modify other phenotypes of interest.
Author Summary
Robustness is a property of biological systems that ensures the production of reproducible phenotypes in spite of underlying environmental, stochastic, and genetic variability. A consequence of robustness is that potentially functional genetic variation is free to accumulate in natural populations because it is buffered at the phenotypic level. Even if this so-called “cryptic” genetic variation has no obvious effects under standard conditions, it may become phenotypically expressed upon major genetic or environmental perturbations. Here we used the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans to identify genetic variations involved in the cryptic evolution of vulval cell fate induction between wild strains. We found that a mutation in the essential nath-10 gene not only contributes to cryptic genetic variation in the vulval system, but also affects key life history traits that are expected to be under a strong selective pressure (brood size, age at sexual maturity, sperm number and rate of progeny production). Indeed, an allele of nath-10 that emerged during the laboratory domestication of C. elegans about 50 years ago confers a strong competitive advantage over the ancestral allele under laboratory conditions. A genetic variation that is cryptic for a robust trait can therefore affect more sensitive phenotypes and thus evolve under selection.
PMCID: PMC3250502  PMID: 22235190

Results 1-2 (2)