Jessica, what is your research about?
At the moment my main research focus is on how sexual antagonism influences an organism’s genetic architecture. Sexual antagonism is when the same trait has opposite fitness consequences in males and females. Sexually antagonistic genes and traits are interesting because they may hold the key to one of the long-standing paradoxes in evolutionary biology: the maintenance of standing genetic variation. When selection is strong and traits are heritable, it is expected that standing genetic variance for fitness should be rapidly depleted. Yet this is not what we see when we look at natural populations. Sexual antagonism may provide an answer since it means that the fitness of any given allele is context-dependent, preventing rapid depletion of genetic variance. I’m currently working on testing the hypothesis that sexual antagonism on the sex chromosomes maintains standing genetic variation across the genome, using two model systems: the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and the hermaphroditic flatworm Macrostomum lignano.
Can you shortly describe your career?
I am originally from Canada, and started my undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph. During my third undergraduate year I came to Lund University as part of an international exchange program. I liked it so much that I wanted to stay longer, and ended up living there for 8 years while completing a Master’s and and a PhD on female-limited colour polymorphism in the damselfly Ischnura elegans, under the supervision of Erik Svensson. One of the female morphs is a male mimic, which benefits from reduced male mating harassment. This led me to become interested in sexual conflict in general, and in constraints on the evolution of sexual dimorphism and intralocus sexual conflict and sexual antagonism in particular. In 2007 I therefore moved back to Canada on a Swedish Research Council-funded postdoc with Adam Chippindale at Queen’s University in Kingston. It was there that I started working on sexual antagonism in fruit flies, using an established set of populations that had experienced male-limited experimental evolution for many generations. In November 2009 I moved back to Sweden to join Ted Morrow’s lab at Uppsala University. While there I carried out an investigation of my own set of experimental evolution populations, this time lines that had experienced male-limited X-chromosome evolution. In 2011 I started a collaboration with Klaus Reinhardt from the University of Tübingen, on genotype-by-environment effects on sperm traits. I started working in Lund again in February 2012, after receiving a Junior Researcher Project Grant from the Swedish Research Council, which has enabled me to set up my own independent lab.
How do you feel about becoming a subject editor at Oikos?
I’m excited about becoming a subject editor at Oikos. I’ve been very active so far as a reviewer, both for established journals and within the new initiative Peerage of Science, but I’ve never worked as an editor before. I’m looking forward to seeing the peer review process from the other side.
What do you do when not working?
I have two young daughters, so when I’m not working I mostly spend time with my family. I love to read, so that’s what I do when I can find time just for myself. Even though I’m busy I usually manage to finish a book once every couple of weeks.
Even more curious on Jessica? Visit her websites:
Institutional website: http://www4.lu.se/experimental-evolution-ecology-behaviour/people/principal-investigators/jessica-abbott
Own website: http://jessicakabbott.com/