Research fellowship

Antoine Simon gets a BAEF scholarship for a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Connecticut



Antoine Simon, a researcher in the Unit of Evolutionary and Conservation Biology (InBios / Faculty of Science) will be able to continue his research in the field of evolutionary dynamics of symbiotic systems thanks to a BAEF (Belgian American Education Foundation) grant that will take him to the laboratory of Dr. Bernard Goffinet of the University of Connecticut (UConn).

The term symbiosis, which is now widely used in biology, was first coined to characterize the multi-organismal association found in lichens. This strong, self-supported association typically involves a fungus and at least one photosynthetic organism (a green alga and/or a cyanobacterium). About one fifth of all described species of fungi acquire the carbon they need by means of lichenization, which highlights the remarkable evolutionary success of this nutritional strategy. Since they tend to be highly sensitive to human-induced disturbances and atmospheric conditions, lichens are often valued as bioindicators of environmental health. Consequently, lichens do not only constitute sound models for the study of symbiotic systems, but also represent target for species conservation.

With over 400 accepted species, Lobarioid lichens (Peltigerales, Lobariaceae), constitute one of the largest family of lichenized fungi. Because they usually form conspicuous thalli and thrive in old-growth forests with outstanding air quality, lobarioid lichens are often considered as flagship lichens of high conservation priority. Moreover, lobarioid lichens involve cyanobacteria which are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen in addition to carbon and, for this reason, this group represents a key asset for innovative research in agronomy and related fields. The threat caused by the rapid loss of their habitat (i.e., mostly tropical and temperate/boreal rainforests) demands taxonomic clarity, which is unarguably essential to undertake efficient conservation efforts.

This research project looks at evolutionary dynamics in symbiotic systems, using lobarioid lichens, that constitute optimal models for addressing fundamental questions in the biology of symbiosis.

The main objectives of this research project are to :

  • reconstruct the phylogenetic relationships of members of the lobarioid lichens, using the most comprehensive sampling possible;
  • identify and characterize the genes that play a predominant role in the symbiosis of lobarioid lichens;
  • contribute to the conservation and protection of the natural environment by harmonizing the classification and nomenclature of lichen species, an essential step towards a sound legislation mandating and efficient conservation policies.

The University of Connecticut

Dr. Bernard Goffinet's lab at the University of Connecticut (UConn), situated in the picturesque rolling green hills of New England, has collaborated with the Evolution and Conservation Biology Unit at the University of Liège for several years. The lab’s research is focused on fundamental evolutionary processes in both bryophytes and lichens. Specifically, these topics range from understanding the rich diversity of these understudied organisms, improving current systematic knowledge, and elucidating their complex molecular biology with modern bioinformatic approaches.

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ABOUT THE BAEF POST DOCTORAL RESEARCH FELLOWSHIP (RESTRICTED ACCESS)

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