Studying stress and genomics in Svanhovd

Greetings from Northern Norway! My name is Sara Lommi and I come from Finland from the University of Jyväskylä where I work as a project researcher in the Stress Genomics group. I have been visiting the beautiful Svanhovd Research Station of the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO) for two nights to collect malt flies with the INTERACT grant afforded to Dr. Maaria Kankare (leader of the group).

Stress tolerance is one of the key traits affecting species’ survival and distribution. The current climate change causes lots of stress to organisms since the environmental conditions can change a lot and fast. However, we still lack knowledge what is happening in the organisms at the genetic level and what key genomic mechanisms are involved in these responses. In our research group we are focusing on chromosomal inversions and transposable elements (TEs) and especially on their interaction at the genomic level. Our results will help us to understand the genomics behind the stress tolerance and they will also clarify how different mechanisms are connected to rapid adaption to changing environmental conditions.

We use Drosophila flies as our model species. They are easy to maintain in the laboratory which means that they are commonly used in medical and biological studies. Our main model species, D. montana is one of the most cold tolerant fly species which occurs even above the Arctic circle in very northern areas.

Best places to collect flies are usually close to water for example rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds.  Particularly the places where beavers have cut the trees are good collection spots. In Svanhovd, I collected flies from small streams next to the fields of the station, and from the nearby Lake Fossevatn. Flies are easier to collect in the early summer months because they mate around that time and come to the baits. However, the timing is sometimes hard to estimate because the temperature should be above 13 °C degrees and the weather in the North can fluctuate really fast.

Figure 1. Malt baits next to Lake Fossevatn and beside a small stream close to the Svanhovd Research Station.

To catch D. montana flies we use malt baits, mesh lids, and aspiration tubes. The baits are left in the field overnight but sometimes flies can be seen even after 30 minutes, if you are lucky. Then the bait is covered with the mesh lid and the flies are aspirated with the tube and transferred into the media tubes. Female flies are placed separately into their own media tubes to create so called isofemale lines where all the offspring are from on female.

Figure 2. Aspiration tubes, mesh lids, and malt baits (from top to bottom) are used to collect Drosophila flies and media tubes to keep them in the laboratory.

Back at the University of Jyväskylä we will determine the species of the collected flies with specific PCR method and Sanger sequencing. We have a Flylab where we keep the flies to lay eggs and produce new generations so that we can maintain the flies for the future studies. We are curious to see if we were able to find any D. montana flies from Svanhovd!

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