Innovative integration of high-throughput DNA barcoding, transcriptome-based constrained phylogenetics, hyperspectral imaging, and morphology to assess and characterize a poorly known fauna
Topic and aims
Caddisflies are a group of semi-aquatic insects capable of producing silk. The mechanical properties of caddisfly silk resemble those of spider or butterfly silk but caddisfly silk is optimized for underwater use. Strands of silk are fastened onto surfaces via adhesive secretions, are used to construct filter nets, or larval retreats and cases using a variety of organic and mineral building materials. Silk usage is often similar among closely related species. However, in some cases closely related species show enormous variation in silk usage. In this project, we will document genomic differences among caddisflies with different silk usage in combination with transcriptomic studies of silk glands. We will thereby assess i) the deep phylogeny of caddisflies and ii) structural differences in genes involved in the biosynthesis of silk. Based on these genomic/transcriptomic data we will identify clusters of biosynthetically relevant genes. We will then pursue collaborations with insect biotechnologists and material scientists to gauge the potential of caddisfly silk in applied life sciences.