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Summer school on polygenic adaptation in Switzerland

The summer school placed high demands on the participants. Among others, basic knowledge in statistics, quantitative genetics, and genomics were needed to be able to follow the lectures. Credit: Christian Rellstab/WSL

by Christian Rellstab

Many phenotypic traits, like growth, are known to be driven by more than one gene. For example, it has been shown that the height of humans is associated to thousands of regions in the genome. It is therefore likely that genetic adaptation to local environmental conditions, which is one of the main topics investigated in the project GenTree, is mostly "polygenic" rather than influenced by single genes with large effect. Approaches to detect such polygenic signals from genomic data, however, are still scarce and rarely applied. Scientists screening the genome to find signatures of local adaptation have therefore mostly used single-locus approaches, where interactions among genes tend to be neglected.

The summer school on "Integrated methods to detect polygenic adaptation from genomic data", sponsored by the University of Zürich, the project GenTree, and the Swiss Federal Research Institute (WSL), was the first ever to cover the topic of polygenic adaptation. Fifty participants, mostly PhD students, but also post-docs, senior researchers, and assistant professors, attended the three-day course at the WSL, close to Zürich. In total, eight lecturers taught theory and practical applications of different approaches for research and data analysis, covering quantitative genetics, landscape genomics, epistasis, gene networks, genome-wide association studies and phenotype prediction.

The summer school did not only include science. On Tuesday evening, the participants visited a winery near the lake of Zürich. The beautiful summer evening was ideal to recover from the intense lectures and exercises, interact with people from similar research fields, enjoy a nice meal under the sky, or learn about different grapes and wines directly from the local host. The summer school was followed by a two-day symposium on the same topic at the University of Zürich that many participants of the summer school attended.


The event was organized by Katalin Csillery (University of Zürich & WSL), Frédéric Guillaume (University of Zürich), Christian Rellstab (WSL), and Felix Gugerli (WSL) with help from WSL and the Life Science Zürich Graduate School.