Team SpecIAnt

Jonna Kulmuni

Principal Investigator

In broad terms I am interested how different evolutionary processes shape genes and genomes, generate diversity and lead to adaptation and speciation. Apart from solving the mystery of speciation I have also been interested in…

Genetic basis of chemical communication in ants

Insects are adapted to a world of smells and chemosensation has an essential role in chemical recognition of mates, predators and food resources. Social insects add yet another dimension to the study of chemosensory genomics, as the key components of their social life rely on chemical communication.

Large gene families contribute to the first steps of receiving chemical messages. Chemosensory proteins (CSPs) and odorant binding proteins (OBPs) are the first ones to interact with the chemical messages. These proteins bind and transport the insoluble odorants to odorant receptors. CSPs are particularly interesting in ants, as they have a role in binding the nest-mate recognition cues.

I have studied the evolution of CSPs in ants, and found that the number of functional CSP genes has increased in all the seven ant species studied. Those CSPs that are specific to ants evolve under positive natural selection, suggesting different CSP copies have adapted to slightly different tasks.

Together with Heli Salmela we studied which parts and properties of chemosensory proteins have been affected by positive selection. Interestingly, positive selection has targeted the surface rather than the binding pocket, and natural selection seems to drive variation in CSP surface charge. Variable surface charge likely has functional importance for example by affecting ligand binding, interaction between CSPs and odorant receptors, or is connected to the cellular environment of CSP expression.

Science communication

On a completely different field of science communication, I have studied the public understanding of evolution. In my master’s thesis I studied the common misconceptions of evolution and whether there is a conflict between religious beliefs and evolutionary theory.

Jack Beresford

PhD student


At the time of writing I am ploughing ahead into my second year of PhD studies. My thesis is concerned with investigating the causes and consequences of hybridization in the curious European Red Wood ants that are abound here in Finland. Though I have varied research interests, I’m particularly fascinated by the genetics of speciation; that fundamental process that gives rise to all novel biodiversity. While speciation is broadly understood, the genetic mechanisms at it’s heart remain elusive, and that’s where I hope to delve.

Beyond my research, I am enthusiastic organizer of extracurricular activities like the Spring Symposium for Biology PhD’s here in Helsinki. I have also taken part in the Helsinki Science Slam (and won!) with two of my brilliant peers, where we delivered a performance about our work through poetry.

Pierre Nouhaud

Post doctoral researcher
I am an evolutionary geneticist with a long-standing interest in questions pertaining to adaptation and speciation. During my PhD, I have identified loci involved in host plant adaptation in the pea aphid complex, a model in ecological speciation. As a postdoc I have then worked on Evolve & Resequence approaches to question the genomic architecture of thermal adaptation in Drosophila. In the meantime, I have dived into the delights of genome assembly and annotation using long read sequencing.
In the team SpecIAnt, I will question whether the same genomic regions are involved in reproductive isolation over multiple, independent hybridization events within the Formica rufa group using whole-genome sequencing and resequencing data.

Ina Satokangas

PhD student


My current focus is on analyzing genomic regions that are hypothesized to underlie the sex-related differences in hybridization of the Formica species.

I am interested in evolutionary processes in general. My background is in ecology and evolutionary biology, and I wrote my MSc thesis combining a systems-level neuroscience topic with an evolutionary approach. At the moment my special interest is on developing my skills in bioinformatics  especially in programming and statistical analyses. Alternating with the researchrelated activities, I teach biology and geography at a secondary level.


Past students

2018 Janina Schönberger, Research Intern (DAAD Rise)

2018 Monika Bhalke, research intern (University of Helsinki)

2018 Bendik Ferkingstad, research intern/ assistant

2017 Ann-Kristin Dicke, research intern (RISE)

2017 Lucy Pluckrose, research assistant (University of Helsinki)

2015 Lucy Pluckrose, research intern, University of Sheffield (SURE student, Sheffield University Research Experience),

2015 Sam Morris, University of Sheffield (OnCampUs Placement project)

2014 Katri Ketola, University of Helsinki (MSc)


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