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Developmental genomics and evolution - A. KHILA

Developmental genomics and evolution




Video: presentation of research topics developed by the team of Abderrahman Khila (in french) 

Overview :

We are interested in how phenotypes originate and evolve. To do this, we investigate how the interplay between the mechanistic contribution of development and various facets of selection drives phenotypic evolution. We integrate approaches from various fields including EvoDevo, ecology, evolution, genetics, epigenetics, comparative genomics and transcriptomics. As a study model, we ask these questions in water striders – a group of predatory water surface-dwelling insects. Various tools and resources are available to us to study gene expression, gene function, classical genetics and mapping, as well as genomics.

Current projects:

There are three primary and interconnected projects ongoing in our lab:

The first deals with the mechanisms underlying the emergence and maintenance of phenotypic variation in a male-specific exaggerated, sexually selected, trait (see Toubiana et al. 2020 a and b BioRxiv preprints for more detail). This project will study the contributions of genetics, epigenetics and nutrition in generating high variation in leg growth in the water strider Microvelia longipes (M. longipes). Males of M. longipes exhibit a spectacular variation in the length of their third legs, whereas females don’t. Behavioural observations, both in the lab and in the wild, showed that males in this species are territorial and use their long legs as weapons during contests to dominate egg-laying sites (Toubiana and Khila, 2019). This extreme variation in males’ leg length is under the influence of both genetic and environmental factors, particularly nutrition (Toubiana and Khila, 2019).

Microvelia longipes variation


The second investigates the cellular and developmental genetic origin of evolutionary innovations (See Santos et al. 2017). The propelling fan is an evolutionary innovation found in a genus of water striders called Rhagovelia (Andersen, 1982). We found that this evolutionary novelty allowed Rhagovelia to conquer a distinct niche of running waters that is not accessible to closely related species (Santos et al., 2017). We also found that the fan develops during embryogenesis under the control of two taxon-restricted genes that we named geisha (gsha) and mother-of-geisha (mgsha) (Santos et al., 2017). The evolutionary history and the composition of the gene network that led to such an elaborate innovation remain unknown. This project will dissect in more detail the evolutionary steps and the gene network composition underlying the development and evolution of the fan.

Propelling fans in Rhagovelia and Tetraripis


The third project asks how antagonistic co-evolution of the sexes at the phenotypic level is linked to evolution at the genomic level, in the context of sexual conflict over mating rate (see Khila et al. 2012; Crumiere and Khila 2019). Selection in males and females is often antagonistic in that traits favoured in one sex often impose fitness costs to the other. While we have a good understanding of antagonistic co-evolution of the sexes at the phenotypic level, our understanding of how this co-evolution operates at the genomic level remains fragmented at best. This is primarily due to the dichotomy between models where we understand genetics and those where we understand sexual conflict. This project will take advantage of water striders as powerful models for the study of sexual conflict, combined with the genetics and genomics tools our lab has established recently, and resolve this dichotomy. We focus on two genera of water striders where species-pairs, that can be crossed, exhibit prominent differences in a set of male and female sexually antagonistic traits.

Limnogonus spineGerris odontogaster


Related publications:

* William Toubiana, David Armisén, Corentin Dechaud, Roberto Arbore, and Abderrahman Khila. Impact of trait exaggeration on sex-biased gene expression and genome architecture in a water strider. BioRxiv 2020; doi:

* William Toubiana, David Armisén, Amélie Decaras, and Abderrahman Khila. Pleiotropy promotes male exaggerated weapon and its associated fighting behavior in a water strider. BioRxiv 2020; doi: https://10.1101/2020.01.09.898098

* William Toubiana and Abderrahman Khila. Fluctuating selection strength and intense male competition underlie variation and exaggeration of a water strider's male weapon. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2019.

* Antonin Jean Johan Crumiere, Abderrahman Khila. Hox genes mediate the escalation of sexually antagonistic traits in water striders. Biology letters 2019.

* Santos, M.E., Le Bouquin, A., Crumiere, A.J.J., Khila, A. Taxon-restricted genes at the origin of a novel trait allowing access to a new environment. Science, 2017.

Khila, A., Abouheif, E., Rowe, L. Function, developmental genetics, and fitness consequences of a sexually antagonistic trait. Science, 2012.


Research Opportunities:

Interested in joining? get in touch at

Team members

Full Name Status Institution
KHILA Abderrahman DR2 CNRS
ARMISEN David Researcher CDD ENS de Lyon
BADIANE Arnaud Researcher CDD ENS de Lyon
MIGNEREY Ilona Stagiaire M2 ENS de Lyon
PRUVÔT Claudia Stagiaire M2 ENS de Lyon

Team contact (access via ENS intranet):

Team Members


KHILA Abderrahman

Team leader


04 26 73 13 36


post-Doc, CNRS 04 26 73 13 35


MCF, UCBL 04 26 73 13 54

BOULEAU Charlotte

L3 student 04 26 73 13 37


PhD student 04 26 73 13 35


AI, EPHE student 04 26 73 13 54

FINET Cédric

post-Doc 04 26 73 13 54


IE, CDD CNRS 04 26 73 13 13


IE 04 26 73 13 37

MELET Antoine


04 26 73 13 37

04 26 73 77 28


post-doc 04 26 73 13 37


PhD student 04 26 73 13 35


PhD student 04 26 73 13 35

VIALA Séverine

IE, CNRS 04 26 73 13 37

Team contact (access via ENS intranet):


Our paper on the exaggerated legs of water striders is out in PLoS Biology!

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