The Valenzano Lab

Evolutionary and Experimental Biology of Ageing

The Valenzano Lab investigates the evolutionary genetic basis of vertebrate lifespan and ageing. Our main model system is the African turquoise killifish (Nothobranchius furzeri) — the shortest lived vertebrate species bred in captivity, characterized by rapid ageing. To study how species in nature evolved different life history strategies, we use a combination of experimental and analytical approaches, which include genetic mapping, comparative genomics, population genetics, fish transgenesis and computer simulations. Once a year, we conduct field research in the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, which hosts natural populations of turquoise killifish.

Research interests

We research the genetic mechanisms involved in vertebrate survival and ageing under laboratory and natural conditions. We are broadly interested in genome evolution and we use genetic crosses between different fish strains to map the genomic regions associated with several traits, including male colouration and sex (Valenzano et al., 2009). After sequencing and assembling the turquoise killifish genome, we mapped the genetic architecture of the differences in captive survival between different strains of this species (Valenzano et al., 2015). Using a combination of comparative genomics, population genetics (Cui et al., 2019, Willemsen et al., 2019) and computer simulations (Šajina and Valenzano, 2016, Bradshaw et al., 2019), we investigate the selective forces that mold genomes and life history traits in nature.

Working on an extremely short-lived vertebrate, with a captive median lifespan of less than four months, we can rapidly investigate the changes occurring in different organs and systems throughout the ageing process. Studying a short-lived organism equipped with both an innate and an adaptive immune system (Bradshaw and Valenzano, 2019), using a high-throughput sequencing approach, we specifically investigate 1) the changes occurring during ageing in the B-cells immunoglobulin repertoire and 2) how age-related changes in the intestinal microbiota composition affect ageing and survival in a vertebrate (Smith et al., 2017; Seidel and Valenzano, 2018).

We take advantage of the short life cycle of the turquoise killifish, which is less than two months in captivity, to rapidly generate transgenic fish lines (Valenzano et al., 2011; Harel et al., 2015) and test the effects of several genetic alterations on vertebrate ageing and lifespan.

We are developing the African turquoise killifish as a novel experimental short-lived vertebrate model organims (Kim et al., 2016, Dodzian et al., 2018) to fill the gap between experimentally short-lived invertebrates — C. elegans and Drosophila — and longer-lived vertebrate model organisms — mice, rats, zebrafish and naked mole-rats.

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