The nematode Pristionchus pacificus as a model system for integrative studies in evolutionary biology



Comprehensive studies of evolution have historically been hampered by the division among disciplines. Now, as biology moves towards an ‘-omics’ era, it is more important than ever to tackle the evolution of function and form by considering all those research areas involved in the regulation of phenotypes. Here, we review recent attempts to establish the nematode Pristionchus pacificus as a model organism that allows integrative studies of development and evo-devo, with ecology and population genetics. Originally developed for comparative study with the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, P. pacificus provided insight into developmental pathways including dauer formation, vulva and gonad development, chemosensation, innate immunity and neurobiology. Its subsequent discovery across a wide geographic distribution in association with scarab beetles enabled its evaluation in a biogeographic context. Development of an evolutionary field station on La Réunion Island, where P. pacificus is present in high abundance across a number of widespread habitat types, allows examination of the microfacets of evolution – processes of natural selection, adaptation and drift among populations can now be examined in this island setting. The combination of laboratory-based functional studies with fieldwork in P. pacificus has the long-term prospective to provide both proximate (mechanistic) and ultimate (evolutionary and ecological) causation and might therefore help to overcome the long-term divide between major areas in biology.