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- Thijs Ettema
- Post Docs
- PhD Students
- Spang Branch
I completed both my Bachelor and Master degrees at the National University of Malaysia, under the supervision of Dr. Adura Mohd Adnan. By combining molecular work and bioinformatics, I analysed the ferritin gene family of the Asian seabass. Under joint supervision with Dr. Toni Gabaldon at the Centre of Genomic Regulation (Barcelona, Spain), we discovered a complicated evolutionary history of the highly conserved ferritin gene family, such as gene duplications that could be linked to the landmark transition of tetrapods from an aquatic to a terrestrial lifestyle. In addition, our analysis suggests that mitochondrial ferritin in Drosophila and mammals arose from two independent evolutionary events. Subsequently, with co-supervision from Prof. Dr. Samuel Martin at the University of Aberdeen (United Kingdom), I examined Atlantic salmon ferritin, where multiple copies are present due to an additional round of genome duplication.
For my PhD, I decided to fully transition from bench work towards computational biology. I began my PhD journey as the first person to join the group of Dr. Michael Hiller at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology (Dresden, Germany), with the aim of developing a computational pipeline to detect signatures of convergent evolution in a genome-wide manner. The identification of convergent molecular evolution can contribute towards bridging the gap between genotype and phenotype – a well-known example is the discovery of the hearing gene prestin in echolocating bats and dolphin, including critical convergent sites that could alter protein activity.
Using our pipeline, we identified several fast muscle genes, which we hypothesized could be involved in the physiology of superfast muscles found in these species, allowing them to produce extremely rapid echolocating calls. In summary, my PhD project demonstrates a way to harvest the steadily growing public genomic data to study phenotypes and the underlying genomic factors.
Nothing fascinates me more than evolutionary biology, at both molecular and speciation levels. For example, how molecular mechanisms can change over time as new species evolved through diversification or adaptation to different environments. I seek to study these changes by utilising and developing tools that can take advantage of the ever-increasing biological data being made available. Currently I am a postdoc in the Spang lab and based in the Ettema-Lab, with the goal of gaining a better understanding of a relatively new superphylum of Archaea known as DPANN, using a combination of metagenomic and phylogenomic approaches. My aim is to shed some light on the phylogeny of the DPANNs in relation to other Archaea, as well as uncover potentially unique genomic features that could be associated with the symbiotic/parasitic lifestyles of many DPANN species.