Natural Variation

Detlef Weigel

Weigel portrait 2019 square 2
  • PhD studies at the MPI for Developmental Biology, 1986-88
  • Postdoctoral training at the California Institute of Technology, 1989-93
  • Assistant and Associate Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, 1993-02
  • Director at the MPI since 2002

Research Interest

How do new variants arise in the genome? Why do some increase in frequency, but others do not? And why do certain combinations cause genetic incompatibilities? These questions reflect the evolutionary processes that we study: mutation, selection and speciation.

Our genotype-first approaches, for which we deploy advanced bioinformatic methods, are complemented by phenotype-first projects, in which we use genetics to identify genes responsible for variation in traits such as climate adaptation and disease resistance. The latter work is informed by extensive field experiments and collection efforts that address the role of the microbiome in shaping diversity in the plant immune system. An important recent addition to our portfolio is our foray into plant-pathogen interactions, trying to understand how natural pathogen diversity shapes the diversity of the plant immune receptor repertoire, both from an evolutionary and a biochemical perspective.

Our team thrives on a highly integrated model of large-scale genomics, bioinformatics, and experiments in the lab and the field. Some students perform only experiments, while others apply and develop only bioinformatic tools. However, the majority has developed competence in both, and we train students in areas they are less familiar with.

PhD graduates of the Weigel have done very well; a very recent example is Moises Exposito-Alonso, who was offered an independent position as Principal Investigator already before graduating and who recently won one of the extremely competitive NIH Director’s Early Independence Awards.

  • Weigel IMPRS 2018 fig 1
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Genetic change required for survival of Arabidopsis in 2070.

  • Hpa
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Infection of Arabidopsis fruits by the specialist pathogen Hyaloperonospora.

Available PhD Projects

Project 1: Long-read assemblies of plant genomes and pan-genome graphs

Project 2: Functional analyses of plant microbes and their interactions with the host plant

Selected Reading

1) Karasov TL, Almario J, Friedemann C, Ding W, Giolai W, et al. (2018). Arabidopsis thaliana and Pseudomonas pathogens exhibit stable associations over evolutionary time scales. Cell Host Microbe 24, 168-179.

2) Exposito-Alonso MA, 500 Genomes Field Experiment Team, Burbano MA, Bossdorf O. Nielsen R, Weigel D (2019). Natural selection on the Arabidopsis thaliana genome in present and future climates. Nature 573, 126-129.

3) Li, L., Habring, A., Wang, K., Weigel, D. (2020) Oligomerization of the NLR immune receptor RPP7 triggered by the atypical resistance protein RPW8/HR. Cell Host Microbe 27, 405-417.