Gene-environment interactions in development and evolution

Understanding how environmental variation and genotype-environment interactions contribute to phenotypic variation is a central challenge in current biology. While the significance of phenotypic plasticity and genotype-by-environment interactions is widely recognized, we are still lacking an integrated mechanistic and evolutionary understanding of how gene-environment interactions shape development and how they impact evolutionary processes. We address this problem using the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and related species, focusing on molecularly well-characterized systems, such as germline and vulval cell fate patterning, to study how environmental variation modulates developmental processes and their phenotypic outcomes, including fitness consequences. One principal goal is thus to establish causal connections between reaction norms at molecular-cellular-developmental levels and reaction norms in life history traits.


Current projects

Environmental sensitivity and evolution of the Caenorhabditis germline

How does an organism adjust its reproduction and underlying developmental processes in response to environmental variation? How do such environmental responses evolve, given that populations and species have adapted to contrasted ecological niches? We address these questions by studying how molecular and cellular processes of the Caenorhabditis germline respond to environmental variation and how such responses evolve. The overall project objective is to conduct an integrative and quantitative analysis of such germline plasticity and its evolution by characterizing the key processes of germ cell proliferation, gamete differentiation, and maturation, which ultimately define the reproductive output of the organism.

We therefore aim (1) to quantify plasticity and genotype-by-environment interactions for molecular and life history phenotypes in multiple experimental environments in different Caenorhabditis species and isolates; (2) to determine the mechanisms underlying plastic phenotypic responses to ecologically relevant environmental variation; (3) to identify molecular genetic and developmental changes underlying genotype-by-environment interactions, using QTL mapping approaches and by performing developmental genetic analyses in different species and genotypes; (4) to track the process of plasticity evolution in variable environments using experimental evolution; (5) to search for ecological correlates of the observed plasticity and genotype-by-environment interactions by studying natural Caenorhabditis populations and defining their ecological context.


Precision and environmental sensitivity of the C. elegans vulval signalling network

Development may be insensitive to variation in the environment, so that a given developmental process produces an invariant outcome across different environments. Such robustness is a fundamental biological property required to maintain phenotypic stability in a wide range of ecological conditions. To examine how the environment impacts a developmental system, we study the precision and environmental sensitivity of C. elegans vulval development – an intercellular patterning process relying on a network of Ras, Notch and Wnt pathways. We could establish that this process is very robust across various environmental conditions; however, the underlying signalling network and cellular mechanisms show extensive environmental sensitivity. We have identified specific environmental signals, which modulate the constellation and dynamics of the vulval signalling network. We currently address how the signalling network integrates environmental signals via the sensory system and metabolism. These experiments aim to shed light on the environmental modification of conserved molecular signalling cascades important in development and disease.

Braendle C, Baer C & Félix MA 2010 Bias and evolution of the mutationally accessible phenotypic space in a developmental system. PLoS Genetics, e1000877.
Braendle C & Félix MA 2009 The other side of phenotypic plasticity: a developmental system that generates an invariant phenotype despite environmental variation. Journal of Biosciences, 34: 543-551.
Braendle C & Félix MA 2008 Plasticity and errors of a robust developmental system in different environments. Developmental Cell, 15: 714-724.
Braendle C, Milloz J & Félix MA 2008 Mechanisms and evolution of environmental responses in Caenorhabditis elegans. Current Topics in Developmental Biology 80: 171-207.


Natural genetic variation, diversity and ecology of Caenorhabditis nematodes

Although C. elegans and related species are increasingly being used in evolutionary studies, there is still very little information on the ecology and genetic structure of natural populations. We therefore contribute to current sampling efforts to place the model organism C. elegans into a more comprehensive evolutionary ecological context. Our previous research in the Amazonian rain forest of French Guiana has revealed surprisingly high species diversity and population densities, allowing us to characterize patterns of genetic diversity at multiple spatial scales. We are currently extending sampling of natural populations, followed by genomic analyses to assess how variation in ecological parameters and breeding system relate to species-specific patterns of genetic diversity.

Félix MA, Jovelin R, Ferrari C, Han S, Cho YR, Andersen EC, Cutter AD & Braendle C 2013 Species richness, distribution and genetic diversity of Caenorhabditis nematodes in a remote tropical rainforest. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 13:10.
Kiontke K, Félix MA, Ailion M, Rockman MV, Braendle C, Penigault JB & Fitch DHA 2011 A phylogeny and molecular barcodes for Caenorhabditis, with numerous new species from rotting fruits. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 11: 339
Félix MA & Braendle C 2010 The natural history of Caenorhabditis elegans. Current Biology, 20: R965-R969.


Last publications

Caenorhabditis elegans responses to bacteria from its natural habitats. - 2016 - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America - 113 PE3941-9 - Samuel BS, Rowedder H, Braendle C, Félix MA, and Ruvkun,G

Convergent evolution of sperm gigantism and the developmental origins of sperm size variability in Caenorhabditis nematodes. - 2016 - Evolution; international journal of organic evolution - 70 P2485-2503 - Vielle A, Callemeyn-Torre N, Gimond C, Poullet N, Gray JC, Cutter AD, and Braendle,C

Complex heterochrony underlies the evolution of Caenorhabditis elegans hermaphrodite sex allocation. - 2016 - Evolution; international journal of organic evolution - 70 P2357-2369 - Poullet N, Vielle A, Gimond C, Carvalho S, Teotónio H, and Braendle,C

The Genetic Basis of Natural Variation in Caenorhabditis elegans Telomere Length. - 2016 - Genetics - 204 P371-83 - Cook DE, Zdraljevic S, Tanny RE, Seo B, Riccardi DD, Noble LM, Rockman MV, Alkema MJ, Braendle C, Kammenga JE, Wang J, Kruglyak L, Félix MA, Lee J, and Andersen,EC

Anchor cell signaling and vulval precursor cell positioning establish a reproducible spatial context during C. elegans vulval induction. - 2016 - Developmental biology - 416 P123-35 - Grimbert S, Tietze K, Barkoulas M, Sternberg PW, Félix MA, and Braendle,C

Cryptic genetic variation uncovers evolution of environmentally sensitive parameters in Caenorhabditis vulval development. - 2014 - Evolution & development - 16 P278-91 - Grimbert S, and Braendle,C

Outbreeding depression with low genetic variation in selfing Caenorhabditis nematodes. - 2013 - Evolution; international journal of organic evolution - 67 P3087-101 - Gimond C, Jovelin R, Han S, Ferrari C, Cutter AD, and Braendle,C

Species richness, distribution and genetic diversity of Caenorhabditis nematodes in a remote tropical rainforest. - 2013 - BMC evolutionary biology - 13 P10 - Félix MA, Jovelin R, Ferrari C, Han S, Cho YR, Andersen EC, Cutter AD, and Braendle,C

The natural history of Caenorhabditis elegans. - 2010 - Current biology : CB - 20 PR965-9 - Félix MA, and Braendle,C

Evolutionarily divergent thermal sensitivity of germline development and fertility in hermaphroditic Caenorhabditis nematodes. - Evolution & development - 17 P380-97 - Poullet N, Vielle A, Gimond C, Ferrari C, and Braendle,C

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Braendle Christian
Group Leader

2010 Schlumberger Prize


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Members Team
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   Billard De Saint Laumer Bénédicte
Engineers & Technicians
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    May 2018 - C. Braendle Team
   2phD Position 3 ans

    June 2014 - C. Braendle Team
   1 CDD Technicien biologiste   Closed

    October 2009 - C. Braendle Team
   1phD Position 3 ans   Closed

    January 2009 - C. Braendle Team
   1 POST-DOC Positions   Closed



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