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Students

We're looking forward to welcome our new PhD students Irene Pender, Muhammed Rasit Durak, Naomi Kimenyi and Riccardo Pianezza to join our programme!

Matthew Beaumont

PI Robert Kofler
funding by FWF stand-alone and FWF DK

Research area

I began my undergraduate degree studying Biological Sciences at Middlesex University, a result of my admiration towards the research and the discoveries in the field, famously made in the years prior. During my time there I developed a deeper inclination towards working in research, leading me to starting an MSc in Biotechnology at Nottingham Trent University. There, I conducted my thesis investigating RNA editing events in human brain tissue. Aiming to elucidate the function and effects of these lesser understood posttranscriptional genetic events.

This enthusiasm steered me towards a PhD position in Dr Kofler’s group at the Vienna Graduate School of Population Genetics. Here, my work will be focused on looking at the potential fitness impacts and effects of specific transposable elements on different Drosophila populations.

Francesca Beclin

PI Magnus Nordborg
funding by FWF-DK

Research area

I have always been fascinated by nature's impressive biodiversity and curious about how it has emerged. This led me to do my studies in biology. For my master, I specialized in ecology since I wanted to understand the complex interactions between the different components of nature. It soon became clear that my interest in evolutionary biology was strongest. Therefore, I focused on the population genomics of speciation in two recently diverged Chinese Populus species for my master’s project, performing genome scans for reproductive isolation, as well as demographic inferences.

For my PhD, I'm working on Aquilegia, a genus of beautiful flowering plants within the family Ranunculaceae. This genus has experienced adaptive radiations in Eurasia as well as North America and consists of about 70 species which are widely interfertile (especially within geographic regions). Interestingly, one of the seven Aquilegia chromosomes, chromosome 4, seems to differ in its evolutionary history from the rest of the genome, since its phylogenetic history is systematically different, and its levels of polymorphism are much higher.

Currently, I’m analyzing the relationships of European Aquilegia species using population-scale genomic data, and I’m working on generating the first European Aquilegia reference genome. In the longer term, I plan to try to pinpoint the evolutionary origin of the aberrant chromosome 4 by looking at the homologue in other genera which are closely related to Aquilegia. Another objective of mine is to analyze the factors playing a role in the European Aquilegia radiation, with a special focus of hybridization.

Gregoire Bohl Viallefond

PI Magnus Nordborg
funding by FWF-DK

Research area

more info coming, soon

Elif Bozlak

PI Barbara Wallner
funding by FWF DK

Research area

My love and curiosity about nature directed me to study Molecular Biology and Genetics. During my bachelor studies, I realized the importance of organizing and analyzing experimental data and developing new tools to produce meaningful results from experiments. This led me to continue my studies in Bioinformatics, which is a fascinating field for me. In my master thesis, I analyzed whole-genome sequencing data to calculate the mutation rate per generation for modern horses in a collaboration with Vetmeduni Vienna.

In my Ph.D. project I try to analyze Y-chromosomal sequences of different mammals such as horses, sheep, and goats, to investigate male-driven demography and finding selection patterns. I will construct Y-chromosomal assemblies when needed and reconstruct Y-chromosomal haplotypes from NGS data. I will use both modern and ancient samples in my studies to better understand the geographic replacement of populations during time and space. 

Howard Chen

PI Andreas Futschik
funding by FWF DK

Research area

I studied actuarial science during my bachelor at the London School of Economics, and statistics during my master's at the University of Warwick. My master's dissertation was based on Hamiltonian Monte Carlo (HMC), at developing a new method of HMC that is able to overcome some of the difficulties of the original algorithm, for example the struggle to sample from multi-modal distributions. This was achieved by using an idea of physics, called metadynamics, coupled with the active subspace method and importance sampling in order to apply this method to statistics.

During my PhD I will be working to construct a model that is able to simulate the migration path of freshwater fish in Japan during the last few million years, first focusing on single species, and hopefully incorporating multiple species into a single model later during my studies. The migration path is particularly interesting in Japan due to the tractable ice ages and migration from Korea during these times, as well as the rapid changing geography on the archipelago giving more complexity.

Yiwen Chen

PI Christian Schlötterer
funding by FWF stand-alone and FWF-DK

Research area

After one course in genetics during my sophomore year, my passion for Biology was recommenced after nearly being lost due to heavily memorization-oriented zoology and botany courses. I’ve realized how lucky I am to find genetics as logical, quantitative, and that it has laws to follow. Hence I decided to dedicate my career to this field.

I obtained my Bachelor's degree in Biotechnology at Sun Yat-Sen University, China, with my thesis project aiming at improving the GWAS results of Major Depression Disorder in humans via empowering pleiotropic genetic markers, which also contributed to one bigger project of the lab assessing the total genetic contribution of each genetic variant across a wide range of phenotypes, lately published in Nature Communications.

In order to improve my knowledge and skills about genomic analysis, I further continued a Master's degree in Bioinformatics at Uppsala University, Sweden. For my thesis study, I conducted QTL analyses of multiple traits in a body-weight-selected chicken intercross line, and it was during that process, I found my particular interest and passion in evolutionary genetics. Therefore, I joined the program at the Vienna Graduate School of Population Genetics to pursue a Ph.D. degree in evolutionary genetics.

During my Ph.D. studies, I will contribute to the work in temperature adaptation of Drosophila simulans. The genomic signatures were previously studied after the fruit flies are adapted to a cold or a hot environment respectively, while my project aims to reveal what will happen if the selection pressure is reversed, i.e., changing the cold-adapted flies to a hot environment. It is anticipated that we can rule out lab adaptation better and improve the efficiency of selection providing higher allele frequency of potentially selected alleles after the first stage of selection with this particular study design.

Sara Duarri Redondo

PI Christian Schlötterer
funding by FWF stand-alone and FWF-DK

Research area

I obtained my bachelor’s degree in Genetics and my master’s degree in Bioinformatics from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. During my master's studies, I focused on human population genetics. My thesis centered on unraveling the genetic origins of Mercheros, a Spanish ethnic minority. Before finishing my master’s, I joined Summer of High-Performance Computing 2020 hosted by the PRACE.

During my PhD at PopGen Vienna, I will be working on understanding polygenic adaptation. My main goal is to explore what happens once populations adapt to a new environment, aiming to understand which genetic forces shape the genome once trait optimum is reached. To do so, I will be working with Drosophila simulans populations that have been under selective pressure for more than 200 generations.

Muhammed Rasit Durak

PI Christian Schlötterer
funding by FWF-DK and FWF stand-alone

Research area

more info coming, soon

Juan Bosco Gracia Alvira

PI Christian Schlötterer
funding by FWF DK and FWF stand-alone

Research area

During my bachelor’s studies in Biotechnology at Universidad de Zaragoza I developed a particular interest in the ecological aspects of microbial diversity. For this reason, in my bachelor thesis I aimed to understand why two soil microbial communities had a different growth promotion effect on the legume species Lotus japonicus and Lotus burttii. After my bachelor, I moved to Vienna to study Microbial Ecology at Univ. of Vienna, where I prioritised my formation in bioinformatics and metagenomics. For my master thesis I looked at the differences between microbial communities sampled from hyper-saline and from arid environments. I used a combined approach of comparative metagenomics and fluorescent microscopy to study how closely related bacteria had evolved to cope with different extreme conditions.

During my PhD at PopGen Vienna, I will look at the evolutionary dynamics of the Drosophila gut microbiome. I will leverage D. simulans populations evolved artificially in two temperature regimes to study how gut-associated bacteria adapt to the host’s temperature.

Elizaveta Grigoreva

PI Magnus Nordborg
funding by FWF DK

Research area

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Hannah Götsch

PI Reinhard Bürger
funding by FWF DK

Research area

During my bachelor’s degree program in mathematics at the University of Vienna I discovered my fascination for applied mathematics. Therefore, I decided to complete the master’s degree program in mathematics with a specialization in biomathematics. This led me to seminars and lectures in the biomathematics area, which brought me to discover my fascination and enjoyment for dealing with problems in mathematical population genetics. Thus, it was natural to decide to write also my master’s thesis about a topic in population genetics. With the help of computer simulations, I studied the architecture of a quantitative trait in a structured population under selection and different genetic and environmental assumptions. Furthermore, I aimed to derive analytical approximations to predict the distribution of the allele frequencies.

The aim of my Ph.D. project is to develop and analyze various deterministic and stochastic models for the adaptation of complex ecological traits in a spatially structured population by looking at the dynamics of individual gene loci.

Clara Groot Crego

PI Ovidiu Paun
funding by FWF DK

Research area

Evolution in all its shapes and forms fascinates and intrigues me: from
the shaping of the tree of life to short time scale changes in
populations. In a very broad sense, I would like to understand the
forces and dynamics which explain the fantastic diversity of the natural
world, be it in plants, animals, fungi or prokaryotes.

I did my Bachelor in General Biology at the KULeuven, Belgium, and my
Master in the EU-funded MEME programme (Master of Excellence and
Mobility in Evolutionary Biology) at the LMU in Munich, Germany, and the
University of Montpellier, France. It was during my master that I got to
work with genomic data for the first time and ask interesting
evolutionary questions.

At the moment, I’m focusing on understanding the evolutionary forces
that drive adaptive radiations. In my PhD project (Group Lexer), I’m
using genomic data to disentangle the demographic history and selection
regime of a radiated clade of tillandsioid bromeliads, a neotropical
plant group from the Americas.

Tejashwini Hegde

PI Christian Schlötterer
funding by Vetmeduni Vienna and FWF-DK

Research area

My interest in Evolution has been a constant in my life ever since I learned about it. Due to this interest, I got selected for the KVPY scholarship using which I enrolled for my undergraduate studies at IISER Mohali, India. During the five years of my studies, I was exposed to the major basic sciences through theoretical and practical courses. My MS thesis project focused on the dynamics of coinfection of pathogens in baseline D. melanogaster population. I graduated with an integrated BS/MS degree with a major in Biology.  

My enthusiasm for Evolution and Genetics only increased through these years, encouraging me to pursue a PhD in the same. At Prof. Schlötterer’s lab, I will be studying adaptation to density-dependant selection using experimental evolution in D. simulans populations. By conducting evolve and re-sequence, and DNA and RNA sequencing on these evolved populations, we hope to identify the loci which are adapting due to this selection pressure, and also their molecular and biological functions, thus helping to identify their phenotypic targets.

The interdisciplinary research conducted at the Vienna Graduate School of Population Genetics provides the perfect foundation for me to acquire new skills and gain more knowledge.

Teerna Khastgir

PI Ovidiu Paun
funding by FWF-DK

Research area

The past has always intrigued me. It started out with an affinity for History and as my education progressed, spread out to other fields like Archaeology, Linguistics, and Evolutionary Biology. The latter ultimately became my field of choice as I had in the meantime, independently developed a keen interest for Biology too. My 5-yr integrated master’s program in Systems Biology provided me with a broad base in Biology and introduced me to the cusp where it meets the other natural sciences.

Currently I am investigating the drivers of an adaptive radiation of persimmons on New Caledonia, a biodiversity hotspot. The species in this radiation occupy distinct niches, in particular with regard to differing edaphic and weather conditions. It is fascinating that a small founder population has given rise to such rich diversity over a comparatively short period of time. I intend to look into this very aspect with special focus on testing the hypothesis that adaptive genome evolution can be a by-product of structural variation and transposable element dynamics.

Naomi Kimenyi

PI Christian Schlötterer
funding by FWF stand-alone

Research area

more info coming, soon

Ioanna Kotari

PI Rui Borges
funding by FWF stand-alone

Research area

During my undergraduate studies at the University of Crete in Greece, I specialised in Environmental Biology and the management of natural resources. I completed my thesis on paralogous gene evolution and expression and I continued on an internship at University College London, where I dove into learning how to use bioinformatics skills to study substitution models in deep phylogenies. This internship sparked my interest in developing more computational skills to handle evolutionary questions and led me to obtain an MRES degree on “Computational methods in ecology and evolution” at Imperial College London. My master’s thesis focused on developing a deep learning algorithm to distinguish between hard and soft selective sweeps from low coverage sequencing data of non-model organisms.

During my PhD project, I will be expanding on polymorphism-aware phylogenetic models (PoMos) by introducing PoMo-cod, a codon substitution model for detecting signatures of natural selection on protein-coding genes. PoMo-cod will allow to disentangle the effects of natural selection from known confounding forces (such as mutational biases, demography and GC-biased gene conversion) in determining the genetic diversity of multiple populations and species, thus producing more accurate genome-wide maps of diversifying evolving genes.

Irene Grace Pender

PI Christian Schlötterer
funding by FWF stand-alone

Research area

A Canadian far from home, I got my start in Biological research in Dr. Ian Dworkin’s lab at McMaster University. There I looked at the mechanics of compensatory adaptation in Drosophila, and specifically characterizing the pleiotropic nature of responses to gene knockdown events.

While I think a lot of population genetics can be really fascinating, I am most interested in the ability to infer and extrapolate population histories from genetic data. I’m also passionate about good science communication, and making sure that results and processes are approachable and accessible to a wide audience.

Here in Vienna I am hoping to use competition between an extremely limited number of haplotypes in an experimental evolution environment as a way to categorize the distribution of beneficial and deleterious alleles and reveal complex and non-additive interactions in founder populations. When not a practicing scientist, I also like to bake and stage musical theatre productions.

Wei-Yun Lai

PI Christian Schlötterer
funding by Vetmeduni Vienna and FWF DK

Research area

I received my bachelor's degree from the department of Agronomy at Nation Chung Hsing University (NCHU) and my master's degree from the department of Agronomy at National Taiwan University. During undergraduate study, I worked on the identification of alternative splicing events caused by Ds transposon family during abiotic stresses in maize. This study was focusing effort into the detailed influence of Ds transposition on the transcriptomic flexibility in response to abiotic stresses in maize. As a research assistant in the Institute of Information Science at Academia Sinica, I developed an analytical pipeline aiming to identify potential trait- associated regulators over multiple traits in yeast. 

During my PhD the Vienna Graduate School of Population Genetics, I’m going to study the evolution of gene expression variance in Drosophila simulans. The major aim of my project is to identify the genes showing significant changes in their expression variance during the evolution, and we anticipate to unveil the underlying evolutionary forces and fitness benefits.

Riccardo Pianezza

PI Robert Kofler
funding by FWF stand-alone

Research area

I've always been fascinated by nature and evolution. I decided to study Biotechnology at the University of Insubria, in Italy, and after my bachelor I subsequently started my master in Molecular Biotechnology. While studying for my master's degree, and especially during my Erasmus traineeship in Wädenswil (CH), I developed the idea of starting a PhD. Also, I realized that what I'm most passionate about is not applied biology, but instead to try to understand mechanisms of biological evolution.

That's why I applied for this project in Robert Kofler's group. I will work on transposable elements, trying to understand their abundance in different human populations, both extant and extint, working with modern and ancient DNA data, and eventually look for biological and historical explanations of the results.

Lara Radović

PI Barbara Wallner
funding by Vetmeduni Vienna

Research area

I enrolled in the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Zagreb for the love of natural sciences. The field of Agricultural Economics seemed ideal for me and in 2017, I was awarded with a Bachelor´s degree. Throughout my undergraduate studies I got more and more interested in genetics so I decided to shift toward Animal Genetics and Breeding. I made my diploma with highest honors and defended my master thesis entitled “Variability analysis of the whole goat mitogenoma" in 2019. For my thesis, I retrieved a large number of complete goat mitogenomes from the whole-genome data stored in public depositories and analysed their variability, in addition to performing phylogenetics.

Curiosity, previous experience and economical background helped shape my research interests, particularly in the field of population genetics. I am very happy that I joined the Vienna Graduate School of Population Genetics and that I have an opportunity to broaden my knowledge.

In my PhD project, I will focus on the dynamic but still enigmatic Y chromosome. Several features make Y chromosome interesting: strictly male-limited transmission, absence of recombination, degeneration of Y-linked genes during evolution and accumulation of genes responsible for maleness and reproduction. Therefore, my project aims to better understand the evolutionary dynamics of mammalian Y chromosomes by studying several species groups with similar divergence as humans and apes (2-20 mya). I will infer lineage-specific as well as shared evolutionary constraints of the Y chromosomal genes and will study the extent to which different types of selection act to maintain genes within this unique genomic environment.

Claudia Ramirez Lanzas

PI Neda Barghi
funding by FWF stand-alone

Research area

Ever since I graduated in biology, my academic career has been motivated by an interest in understanding how evolutionary change occurs. As a result, I took a master's degree in genetics at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona and subsequently discovered the potential of Drosophila as a model system in evolutionary biology during my time as an intern at the University of Liverpool. This led me to become a lab technician at PopGen for a year and a half, where I have been involved in an exciting project in Neda Barghi's group on the adaptation of experimentally evolving populations of Drosophila.

I am happy to continue in the same project at PopGen. As a PhD student, I will study polygenic adaptation by investigating what are the genomic and phenotypic changes in populations of Drosophila following a change in the optimal trait. To do this, we are evolving populations of small and large sizes and collecting time series sequencing data.

Dagny Asta Runarsdottir

PI Christian Schlötterer
funding by Vetmeduni Vienna and FWF DK

Research area

Before and during my graduate studies at the University of Iceland I became exceptionally fascinated by intra and inter specific biodiversity, and the genetic, developmental and evolutionary processes that generate this diversity. I carried out a research project during my graduate studies where I investigated tissue-specific gene expression in a wild fruit fly population and the expressional responses to an artificially selection against a phenotype caused by an experimentally introgressed mutation. Interested in the genetic origin of gene regulatory difference, I analysed the genomes of these strains in continuation of my Master’s research after graduation. In parallel, I studied the role of miRNAs in the context of speciation as I am also interested in the whole picture of gene regulation. My interest in evolution, diversity, and the genotype-to-phenotype map led me to work as a technician on another project, studying the link between plasticity and divergence in more and less specialized ecotypes.

These interests urged me to pursue a Ph.D. in evolutionary genetics, where I seek to become a contributing and independent scientist in the field. I believe the program at the Vienna Graduate School of Population Genetics provides an excellent opportunity for me to achieve my goals. During my Ph.D. at the Schlötterer lab, I aim to assess the causes of different selection responses. Previous studies (Barghi et al., 2019; Mallard et al., 2018) demonstrated population specific selection responses to high temperature between two D. simulans populations, despite similar phenotypic selection response. The main aim is to better understand what determines a few parallel pronounced selection targets in one population and redundant multiple less pronounced selection targets in the other. This study will improve our understanding and prediction about if and how populations may adapt to changing environments, and be applied in climate change.

Almorò Scarpa

PI Robert Kofler
funding by FWF stand-alone and FWF DK

Research area

During my Bachelor's degree in biotechnology at the University of Padova, I was fascinated by genetics and virology. This led me to continue my studies with a Master's degree in Medical biotechnologies. My thesis was focused on third generation lentiviral vectors for the delivery of a Cas9-gRNAs construct to target the proviral DNA of HIV-1. This work allowed me to better understand retroviruses and gain vital experience in a laboratory setting.

I am conducting my PhD in Kofler's group and I will focus on the invasion dynamics of transposable elements. I will perform in vivo experiments obtaining data from novel invasions in Drosophila populations and in silico by designing and running simulations. I aim to improve our overall understanding of transposable element's evolution and their interaction with host defence mechanisms, in particular piRNAs.

Divya Selvaraju

PI Robert Kofler
funding by FWF stand-alone

Research area

As I was constantly motivated and driven by scientific discoveries, I always wanted to stay in science. I completed my Bachelor's in Information Technology where I learned how the technological improvement in computing power is dramatically changing the world of science. Later, during my Master's in Bioinformatics and Biotechnology, I trained in data analysis as a part of my coursework which expanded my knowledge how to mine omics data and bring out hidden information from it.

Invention of new sequencing technologies created a whole new dimension to how we study a particular biological question. I developed an interest in genome evolution and always wondered about the manipulation of the four bases (A, T, G, C) which generated diverse live forms on earth. One of the key players contributing to genome evolution are transposable elements, also known as selfish DNA, that occupy large parts of the genome in higher eukaryotes. They play a significant role in shaping the genome size and they are involved in many disease conditions by disrupting genes and regulatory regions. So, shedding light on the long-term trends of transposable elements would give a better understanding of their propagation in the genome. For my PhD project I will combine experimental evolution, molecular biological methods and a bioinformatic analysis approach to unravel the evolutionary dynamics of transposable elements in Drosophila species. 

Filip Wierzbicki

PI Robert Kofler
funding by FWF stand-alone

Research area

I obtained the master’s degree in Molecular Biotechnology at the University of Applied Sciences “FH Campus Wien”. The study program covers a wide range of life sciences and provides a good basis for research in modern biology. My strong interest in evolution and my passion for the tiniest components of life led me to population genetics. In my opinion, taking advantage of mathematics, informatics and technology in biology is the best way to describe living systems. So I joined the group of Robert Kofler at the Institute of Population Genetics to write my master thesis. I investigated the evolution of the small RNA composition in Drosophila and focused on the control of transposable elements (TE) by small RNAs. During this time I developed a strong interest in the co-evolution between TEs and their hosts.

For my Ph.D., I continue to work in the field of TE biology. I will study TE invasions and track the co-evolution between hosts and parasites over generations. To investigate the dynamics of TE invasions, I will employ techniques of molecular biology and bioinformatics. The project aims to shed light on factors that lead to the establishment of TE control.

Changyi Xiao

PI Christian Schlötterer
funding by FWF stand-alone and FWF-DK

Research area

I obtained my bachelor’s degree in Bioengineering and master’s degree in bioinformatics from Huazhong Agricultural University. During my master’s degree, I tried to use genomic signals to unveil the domestication history of pig populations found the origin of south Asian pigs is distinct from Eurasian pigs, I also found the widespread gene flow among Asian pigs. I worked as a research assistant in the same lab after graduation, and focused on goat Y-chromosome evolution, with paternal and maternal lineage history was discovered. I am very interested in understanding the sources of biological genetic diversity and accessing key gene functions.

During my Ph.D. studies, I will particularly focus on the genetic basis of mean and fluctuating temperature. I will compare the genomic response differences of D. simulans that adapted to two different lab environments - fluctuating and constant temperature regimes. With the help of time-series Pool-Seq data and state-of-art methods, I can better understand the thermal adaptation in D. simulans, and this may help understand how natural populations adapt to global warming.

Benjamin Wölfl

PI Joachim Hermisson
funding by FWF DK

Research area

I obtained my master's degree in Bioinformatics and Systems Biology at the University and the Free University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands. The involvement in a variety of research projects made me appreciate the importance of mathematical and computational methods in biology. For example, I was inspired by how evolution shapes the metabolic network of microbes. For my master thesis I worked on polygenic adaptation supervised by Joachim Hermisson.

During my PhD studies, I will continue to work on models of polygenic adaptation. We employ mathematical and computational methods in order to better understand how polygenic adaptation proceeds and which genetic footprints it leaves.

Burçin Yıldırım

PI Claus Vogl
funding by FWF DK

Research area

I have completed my bachelor’s degree in Molecular Biology and Genetics at the Boğaziçi University (Turkey). However, my appreciation of biology has further flourished as my understanding of evolution grew. That’s why, during my master studies, I directed my focus towards more comprehensive research in evolutionary biology. More specifically, my master's project was concentrated on understanding the selective forces causing speciation on hybridizing populations and resolving deep splitting lineages using computational methods in population genetics and phylogenetics.

For my PhD I wanted to stay in this field while improving my knowledge on the theoretical part and therefore joined the Vienna Graduate School of Population Genetics in September 2019. In a broad sense, for my PhD project, I will try to optimize methods for the inference of population genetics parameters.

Fond zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung
vetmed uni vienna
Gregor Mendel Institute of Molecular Plant Biology
Universität Wien