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Dr Hajk-Georg Drost

Dr Hajk-Georg Drost

Research Associate

Sainsbury Laboratory
University of Cambridge
47 Bateman Street

Cambridge CB2 1LR

Research Interests

In my current role as postdoctoral researcher with Elliot Meyerowitz, I study the evolution of developmental processes (especially the evolution of organ development) in a diverse range of plant and animal species. In this context, I integrate my previous research (see details below) on body plan evolution and genome evolution with in-house generated transcriptome atlases to unravel the developmental principles that conserve established organs throughout large evolutionary time scales and the evolutionary principles enabling the formation of new organs in adapting populations. To acquire a system scale view on these basic research questions, my approach is to develop customized bioinformatics and machine learning techniques (Drost et al., 2017b; Drost et al., 2018a; Drost 2018b) to extract previously undetected patterns from large-scale genomic and our in-house generated transcriptomic data.

Collaborators: Ottoline Leyser, Ivo Grosse, Christoph Schuster and Alexander Gabel.


Previous Research

In my previous role as a PhD student in Germany in Ivo Grosse’s lab and in collaboration with Marcel Quint I found that the transcriptomes of developing plant embryos follow transcriptomic hourglass patterns analogous to the transcriptomic patterns found in animal embryos (Quint, Drost et al., 2012; Drost et al., 2015). Developmental hourglass patterns continue to be the most prominent observations in animal embryology and are used to explain the conservation of animal forms (= body plans) since their emergence during the Cambrian Explosion more than 500 million years ago. The presence of a plant hourglass suggests that both phenomena evolved independently in animals and plants (last common ancestor ~1.6 billion years ago) and challenges the prominent hypothesis in animals that postulates that the origin of the morphological hourglass phenomenon is caused by constraints on body plan establishment (Quint, Drost et al., 2012; Drost et al., 2015; Drost et al. 2016; Drost et al., 2017a; Drost et al., 2018a). It furthermore challenges the current notion that transcriptome conservation and morphological trait conservation have to be causally linked (Drost et al., 2017a).

The developmental hourglass model in the context of differences in plant and animal development (Drost et al 2016).

In my postdoctoral research with Jerzy Paszkowski, I studied how epigenetically controlled transposable elements contribute to changes in genomic regulation. From my research, I have gained fundamental insights into the biology of transposable elements and their influence on genome plasticity and genome evolution (Drost et al., 2017b; Sanchez et al., 2017; Gaubert et al., 2017; Drost 2018b; Cho et al., 2019). In particular, we demonstrated that the heat-responsive retrotransposon ONSEN is able to perform template switches during the extrachromosomal reverse transcription step within the retrotransposon lifecycle (Sanchez et al., 2017; Gaubert et al., 2017). This finding challenges the current notion of retrotransposon evolution which does not take extrachromosomal retrotransposon recombination into consideration. This extrachromosomal recombination capacity of retrotransposons follows similar principles found in retroviruses and consequently enables retrotransposons to “rejuvenate” their sequence through extrachromosomal recombination between old and young family members with substantial consequences for the evolution of retrotransposon populations and host evolution.

Collaborators: Diego Sanchez and Hervé Gaubert.

Key Publications

Quint M, Drost HG, Gabel A, Ullrich KK, Boenn M, Grosse I. A transcriptomic hourglass in plant embryogenesis. Nature 490, 89-101 (2012).

Sanchez DH*, Gaubert H*, Drost HG, Zabet NR, Paszkowski J. High-frequency recombination between members of an LTR retrotransposon family during transposition bursts. Nature Communications 8 (1), 1283 (2017). (* co-first)

Cho J, Benoit M, Catoni M, Drost HG, Brestovitsky A, Oosterbeek M, and Paszkowski J. Sensitive detection of pre-integration intermediates of LTR retrotransposons in crop plantsNature Plants  5, pages 26–33 (2019)

Drost HG, Gabel A, Grosse I, Quint M. Evidence for active maintenance of phylotranscriptomic hourglass patterns in animal and plant embryogenesis. Molecular Biology and Evolution 32 (5), 1221-1231 (2015).

Drost HG, Bellstädt J, Ó'Maoiléidigh DS, Silva AT, Gabel A, Weinholdt C, Ryan PT, Dekkers BJW, Bentsink L, Hilhorst H, Ligterink W, Wellmer F, Grosse I, and Quint M. Post-embryonic hourglass patterns mark ontogenetic transitions in plant development. Molecular Biology and Evolution 33 (5), 1158-1163 (2016).

Drost HG, Janitza P, Grosse I, Quint M. Cross-kingdom comparison of the developmental hourglass. Current Opinion in Genetics & Development 45, 69-75 (2017a). 

Drost HG, Paszkowski J. Biomartr: genomic data retrieval with R. Bioinformatics 33(8), 1216-1217 (2017b).

Drost HG, Gabel A, Liu J, Quint M, Grosse I. myTAI: evolutionary transcriptomics with R. Bioinformatics, 34 (9), 1589-1590 (2018a). 

Drost HG. Philentropy: Information Theory and Distance Quantification with R. Journal of Open Source Software, 3 (26), 765 (2018b).

Gogleva A, Drost HG, Schornack S. SecretSanta: flexible pipelines for functional secretome prediction. Bioinformatics, 34 (13), 2295-2296 (2018).

Gaubert H*, Sanchez DH*, Drost HG, Paszkowski J. Developmental restriction of retrotransposition activated in Arabidopsis by environmental stress. Genetics 207 (2), 813-821 (2017). (* co-first)

Dekkers BJW, Pearce S, van Bolderen-Veldkamp RP, Marshall A, Widera P, Gilbert J, Drost HG, et al. Transcriptional dynamics of two seed compartments with opposing roles in Arabidopsis seed germination. Plant Physiology 163 (1), 205-215 (2013). 

Ryan PT*, Ó'Maoiléidigh DS*, Drost HG, et al. Patterns of gene expression during Arabidopsis flower development from the time of initiation to maturation. BMC Genomics 16, 488 (2015). (* co-first)