Manon de Visser
For her PhD, Manon aims to unravel the mysteries underlying the evolutionary enigma of the balanced lethal system, together with her co-workers at IBL and Naturalis Biodiversity Center. Her focus is on Triturus newts. In 2018 Manon obtained her Masters degree in Biology at Wageningen University with a double specialization: conservation/ecology and evolution/genomics.
In 2015 Manon obtained her BSc degree in Biology at the University of Utrecht after concluding a research essay and thesis focused on the influence of global warming on the development of sea turtle eggs. In 2018 she obtained her MSc Degree in Biology at the University of Wageningen, where she invested in a double specialization and concluded two Major thesis and two Major internship projects. In one of these theses, she worked on whole-genome re-sequence data of the pygmy hog (Porcula salvania), the smallest and most threatened pig species in the world.
Before her PhD started, Manon worked for a molecular research agency and she worked as an ecological consultant within the Netherlands, doing a lot of round the clock fieldwork. Also, she has been volunteering over the years, for instance for zoos and for NGOs, in order to raise awareness regarding biodiversity loss and the need to protect threatened or relatively susceptible species. In her current work she also spends a lot of time focusing on education, communication and public outreach.
‘I am fascinated by the resilience of nature, even though it is clear the natural world also needs our support. I believe that the successes achieved in investigating and protecting the natural world - two of our greatest duties, in my opinion - are mostly based on the basic principles of thinking out of the box and working together.’ After her PhD on the evolution of balanced lethal systems in Triturus newts, Manon aims to pursue a career in conservation genomics, evolutionary biology, and/or science communication.
Amphibians are relatively understudied in the field of genomics due to their gigantic genome sizes. Nevertheless, the Wielstra lab aims to unravel the evolutionary enigma that is ‘the balanced lethal system’ by looking at the DNA of Triturus newts as a case study. Namely, in all species of Triturus 50% of the eggs die before hatching, no matter the circumstances. This means half the reproductive effort is consistently wasted!
In a balanced lethal system, individuals require two different types of chromosome in order to survive: this means all heterozygotes get to live (50%), whilst homozygotes die (50%, as observed in the newts). This seems to defy evolutionary theory as natural selection should generally not allow for the existence of such a disadvantageous phenomenon.
Manon's research includes reconstructing the ancestral state of the dimorphic chromosome in question. By applying phylogenetic approaches, she will investigate the evolution of the system and how it was manifested in the most recent common ancestor of Triturus. Also, she focuses on finding candidate lethal genes that cause death in inviable embryos. She will use sequence capture techniques (DNA-seq) and gene expression patterns (RNA-seq) to overcome the current challenges of working with relatively large genomes.
1st prize for one-minute pitch at the Netherlands Society of Evolutionary Biology PhD & Postdoc meeting 2021 (NLSEB2021), for the pitch: "The balanced lethal system in Triturus: an evolutionary trap!"
3rd best oral presentation at the Programming For Evolutionary Biology Conference 2021 (miniPEB2021), Freie Universität Berlin, for the talk: "Studying the lethality and evolutionary origin of the balanced lethal system in Triturus newts".
1st prize for oral presentation within subtheme: “Global Health - Humans and Animals" at the University of Copenhagen EuroLeague of Life Sciences (ELLS) Student Conference 2017, for the MSc project "The Importance of Genomics for the Conservation Management of the Critically Endangered Pygmy Hog (Porcula salvania)".
Best oral presentation at the Benelux International Society of Applied Ethology (ISAE) meeting 2016, for the MSc project "The effect of exposure to visitors on stress in the critically endangered blue-eyed black lemur (Eulemur flavifrons) and other primate species at Apenheul Primate Park, the Netherlands."
- Eigen bedrijf / ZZP / eenmanszaak