Lab news

Imprinted genes preprint

January 2020

This is the big one. We've just submitted this long awaited manuscript to Genome Biology. Fingers crossed. In the mean time, you can read it on BioRxiv. Well done Hollie.

An individual has two copies of each gene, one from each parent. For some genes in mammals and flowering plants, only the mother's or the father's version is used. This is genomic imprinting. We have found imprinted genes in the bumblebee, an important, wild and agricultural pollinator. Study of these genes will tell us how imprinting evolved, its commonalities between these distant groups, and its effect on this pollinator's biology.

Lots of updates

September 2019

A lot of news this month. First off, two new preprints out of the lab this month.
Jones, A.R.C. & Mallon, E.B. (Submitted) Evidence of capacitation in the parasitoid wasp, Nasonia vitripennis and its potential role in sex allocation

Hunt, B.J., Mallon, E.B. & Rosato E. (Submitted) In silico identification of a molecular circadian system with novel features in the crustacean model organism Parhyale hawaiensis. Frontiers in Physiology. (preprint avaliable)
Both of these are looking at developing model systems and speak to the span of interests in the lab. Well done Ben and Alun!
Next we have a lot of goodbyes to say in the lab this month. First off is Ben Hunt, who is finishing up his NERC PDRA. Ben has been the backbone of our bioinformatic drive, as well as a vital participant in the intellectual life of the lab. Ben's off to the Penryn campus of the University of Exeter, one of the main centres of evolutionary biology in the U.K.
Boris Berkhout has submitted his PhD originally started with Prof. Iain Barber, formerly of this parish. Boris has brought nothing but good to our insect lab and its been our honour to host him. Hollie Marshall also submitted this summer and will have her viva next month with Prof. Andrew Bourke acting as external. Hollie is a human dynamo and I expect her to be my boss very soon. She is off to the University of Edinburgh to work with Dr. Laura Ross. Celia Hansen has finished her stint as our lab technician and is moving on to other labs in the department. Sorry to see you go Celia and thank you for all the help. Overall, for those of us who are staying, we have a high bar to keep the intellectual energy that our leaving friends brought to the lab.

New paper: Hollie's and Zoe's paper accepted in Evolution Letters

July 2019

Amazing work. Here's the BioRxiv .

Marshall, H.,  Lonsdale, Z.N., & Mallon, E.B. (Submitted) Methylation and Gene Expression Differences Between Reproductive Castes of Bumblebee Workers. Evolution Letters. (preprint available on BioRxiv)


New paper: plant population genetics

July 2019

We've finally got this paper out in GBE. Its from Mark's PhD and I'm delighted to see it out.

M C Harrison, E B Mallon, D Twell, R L Hammond, Deleterious mutation accumulation in Arabidopsis thaliana pollen genes: a role for a recent relaxation of selection, Genome Biology and Evolution, , evz127,


New paper: epigenetics effects of neonicotinoids

June 2019

Not much news updated recently. This is due to my schedule (Eamonn) rather than any lack of news. As a promise to be more regular in the future, here's notice of our new paper on the epigenetic effects of neonicotinoids published in Proc. Soy. Soc. B today.



New PhD students

October 2018

Christian Thomas joins us after his first year on the MIBTP programme. Christian will be looking at CRISPR in Nasonia in collaboration with Mirko Pegoraro at John Moores. Kristi Brink is just starting on the MIBTP programme, so we'll see her in the lab later on in the year.


Insect Genomics Special Interest Group organised by Hollie

September 2018

Hollie did a brilliant job of organising this Royal Entomological Society special interest group meeting in Leicester.

A masterful hello and goodbye

August 2018

Goodbye and good luck to Abdullah Abdullah and Dan Pritchard (both MSc Molecular Biology), who have done some excellent work in the lab. Dan is off to Muenster to start a PhD soon. Hello to Beth Child (MSc Bioinformatics) who has joined the lab to look at the uses of alternative splicing in the social insects.


Ben Hunt joins the lab.

June 2018

Ben joins us as a post-doc from Ezio Rosato's lab. Ben is bringing his bioinformatic experience to bear on several of our knottier problems. Good to have you aboard.


Alternative splicing paper accepted in Molecular Ecology.

January 2018

Started the new year with some good news. Our paper with Warwick colleagues looking at the role of alternative splicing in bumblebee biology has been accepted. No preprint, but hopefully the author version will be up soon.


New horizons.

December 2017

At the end of last month, Zoe defended her thesis with Dr. Seirian Sumner and Dr. Sinead Drea as examiners. Soon after that, she got the good news that she got a position as a Bioinformatician at the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition. Good Luck Zoe.

Mirko will also be leaving us in April. He will be moving to Liverpool John Moore University as a lecturer in Epigenetics. I'm thinking of this as not so much losing a post-doc as gaining a collaborator. Look out for future papers between Leicester and Liverpool.


One paper in, one paper out.

22nd August 2017

Nice day today. We just submitted a paper to Molecular Ecology with colleagues from Warwick and just had a paper accepted on allele specific expression and methylation in PeerJ.

  • Price, J., Harrison, M.C., Hammond, R.L., Adams, S., & Mallon, E.B. (Submitted) Multiple phenotypes from a single genotype: alternative splicing in the bumblebee Bombus terrestris. Molecular Ecology
  • Lonsdale, Z.N., Lee, K.D., Kyriakidou, M., Amarasinghe, H.E., Nathanael, D., O'Connor, C.J.  & Mallon, E.B. (Accepted) Allele specific expression and methylation in the bumblebee, Bombus terrestris . PeerJ (preprint available on


The lab's review in Epigenetics published.

13th July 2017

Well done to Mirko, Hollie and Zoe for all their hard work on the review "Do social insects support Haig's kin theory for the evolution of genomic imprinting?".  Author version available on the Leicester research archive. Abstract below.

Although numerous imprinted genes have been described in several lineages, the phenomenon of genomic imprinting presents a peculiar evolutionary problem. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain gene imprinting, the most supported being Haig's kinship theory. This theory explains the observed pattern of imprinting and the resulting phenotypes as a competition for resources between related individuals, but despite its relevance it has not been independently tested. Haig's theory predicts that gene imprinting should be present in eusocial insects in many social scenarios. These lineages are therefore ideal for testing both the theory's predictions and the mechanism of gene imprinting. Here we review the behavioural evidence of genomic imprinting in eusocial insects, the evidence of a mechanism for genomic imprinting and finally we evaluate recent results showing parent of origin allele specific expression in honeybees in the light of Haig's theory.

Hollie in Leuven.

3rd - 13th July 2017

Hollie is visiting the Wenseleers' lab at the University of Leuven to continue our genomic imprinting collaboration.


Mirko's outreach.

16th - 17th July 2017

Mirko organized 2 outreach events with “Inspiring children and challenging misconceptions” theme

On the 16th of June the 6 pupils from Marriott Primary school that won a science completion came to visit the department. They met members of the Genetics and Genome Biology department including Maria Elena Repici, Rob Hammond, Zoe Lonsdale, Boris Berkhout and Daniel Maddison.

On the 17th June, at Marriott primary school summer fete Mirko organized a Science table with the University of Leicester Banners. He entertained and informed with  flies, wasps, bumblebees and even a gravity well.

Well done Mirko, reaching at least 50 children. A great success.


Eamonn gave a keynote talk at the University of Muenster, Germany.

13th June 2017

Eamonn was invited and gave a keynote talk on the 13th June as part of the 'Phenotypic plasticity and epigenetics in eusocial insects’ workshop at the University of Muenster. This was part of a Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft network

Two new visitors to  the lab.

March - July  2017

Nuria Blasco Lavilla (Universidad de Murcia) and Mailys Ayerdi (Université Paris Diderot) have both joined us as part of the ERAMUS programme. Nuria is looking at transgenerational effects of Crithidia bombi and Mailys will be helping Mirko with the Nasonia CRIPSR project.


Eamonn's promotion.

23rd February  2017

Eamonn was promoted to an Associate Professor with effect from 1 August 2017. Let joy be unbounded.


Hollie at Cogent international.

13th February  2017

Hollie is off doing her CENTA placement at Cogent international, investigating the use of NGS in bull breeding.


New member of the lab.

February  2017

Christian Thomas will be joining us in September as a MITBP student. Christian's project will continue our work looking at epigenetic mechanisms in bees.


Four new members of the lab.

January 2017

Dr. Jacob Holland is joining us for a short visit. Dan Pritchard and Revekka DImou are doing their Masters' projects on Nasonia CRISPR and Bee microbiota respectively. Dave Booth is carrying out his MIBTP project with us looking at the RNA-seq of neonicotinoid affected bees.


Hollie is giving talks at several Leicester schoolshollie 133x100.jpg

11 November 2016

- This Tue, Lancaster Boys School, careers/bees/genetics (year 9) ... can you figure out your genes based on your ear lobes?
- Next Tue, Redmoor Academy, careers/bees/genetics (year 11)
- Next Thur, Gateway College, careers using maths and biology (6th Form)


Locust methylation fingerprint paper published

Scientific Reports logo

18 October 2016

It's out! Only a couple of weeks since it was accepted.

Eamonn B Mallon, Harindra E Amarasinghe, Swidbert R Ott: 'Acute and chronic gregarisation are associated with distinct DNA methylation fingerprints in desert locusts' doi:10.1038/srep35608

Desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) show a dramatic form of socially induced phenotypic plasticity known as phase polyphenism. In the absence of conspecifics, locusts occur in a shy and cryptic solitarious phase. Crowding with conspecifics drives a behavioural transformation towards gregariousness that occurs within hours and is followed by changes in physiology, colouration and morphology, resulting in the full gregarious phase syndrome. We analysed methylation-sensitive amplified fragment length polymorphisms (MS-AFLP) to compare the effect of acute and chronic crowding on DNA methylation in the central nervous system. We find that crowd-reared and solitary-reared locusts show markedly different neural MS-AFLP fingerprints. However, crowding for a day resulted in neural MS-AFLP fingerprints that were clearly distinct from both crowd-reared and uncrowded solitary-reared locusts. Our results indicate that changes in DNA methylation associated with behavioural gregarisation proceed through intermediate states that are not simply partial realisations of the endpoint states.

Michelle HollandMichelle Holland visit

6 October 2016

Thanks to Michelle Holland from the Blizard institute for coming to talk about her work on early nutritional influences on epigenetics. This was part of the Genetics Department seminar series hosted by the Social Epigenetics Lab.

Genetic variation at rDNA determines the epigenetic response to early life nutrition

Early life nutrition can influence development and life-time health, a phenomenon termed ‘developmental programming.’ We have very recently reported the effect of maternal protein restriction on offspring outcomes at both the level of phenotype and the epigenome in a mouse model (Holland et al, 2016, Science). Intriguingly, we identified DNA methylation differences at a single region, localised to rDNA. rDNA is a non-coding repetitive element excluded from genomic assemblies. It codes for RNA components of ribosomes. Further examination revealed that intra- genomic copies of rDNA show sequence divergence, even in inbred mice and that only specific genetic variants show an epigenetic response to early life nutrition. Furthermore, the magnitude of the epigenetic response correlates with diet induced phenotypes. Our work highlights that interactions between genetics-epigenetics and phenotype in this example are ‘cryptic,’ only emerging after exposure to an environmental insult. Furthermore, these effects are observed at a functional non-coding genomic region that is frequently overlooked in the context of genome- wide gene-environment interactions.

Early life nutrition modulates the epigenetic state of specific rDNA genetic variants in mice. Michelle L. Holland, Robert Lowe, Paul W. Caton, Carolina Gemma, Guillermo Carbajosa, Amy F. Danson, Asha A. M. Carpenter, Elena Loche, Susan E. Ozanne, Vardhman K. Rakyan. Science 2016

Locust paper accepted

29 September 2016

Just got the good news from Scientific Reports. This paper looks at methylation differences between solitarious and gregarious desert locust using MS-AFLP. It was part of Harindra Amarasinghe's PhD in collaboration with Swidi Ott. A preprint is available on BioRxiv.

Acute and chronic gregarisation are associated with distinct DNA methylation fingerprints in desert locusts
Eamonn B Mallon, Harindra E Amarasinghe, Swidbert R Ott

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