Wolf lab research projects

The Wolf lab works on a diversity of problems that are generally unified by an interest in how various type of phenomena influence the genotype-phenotype relationship and how this, in turn, influences various evolutionary processes.  We use theoretical and computation population and quantitative genetics combined with empirical work on a diversity of experimental systems to achieve this goal.  

The various problems we work on can be divided in a few main conceptual areas:





Under each of these major 'themes' is a list of a few  selected (mainly the most recent) publications.  A more complete list of publications is available via the 'publications' link at the end of each topic.  You can use the links above to jump to a particular topic or scroll down to look through the various problems we work on 

.evolutionary.genetics.of.  .genomic.imprinting. 

Evolutionary theory:
We have been modeling a number of scenarios where interaction effects favor the evolution of genomic imprinting (where an allele is silenced in a parent-of-origin specific manner).   We have shown that coadaptation between maternal and offspring traits, where selection favors traits expressed in offspring and their mothers that ‘work well together’, can favor the evolution of imprinting because it enhances the adaptive coordination of the two genomes (Wolf & Hager 2006).  We have extended this basic problem to show that cyto-nuclear interactions can also favor genomic imprinting because imprinting coordinates expression of the nuclear and cytoplasmic factors that are coinherited (Wolf 2009).  We have also shown that selective abortion owing to maternal-fetal immune interactions can also favor imprinting (Wolf and Hager 2009).


Wolf JB 2009. Cyto-nuclear interactions can favor the evolution of genomic imprinting. Evolution, 65:1364-1371

Wolf JB & R Hager. 2009. Selective abortion and the evolution of genomic imprinting. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 22(12):2519-2523

Wolf JB & R. Hager. 2006. A maternal-offspring coadaptation theory for the evolution of genomic imprinting. PLoS Biology, 4(12): e380. 


Emprical analysis:

We have been developing methods to detect and characterize imprinted loci (see Wolf et al. 2008a)  We use analytical models to develop mapping methods which are then applied in computational analyses to detect loci in a multi-generation intercross of mouse lines.  We have demonstrated that phenotypic patterns associated with imprinting can be diverse and complex (Wolf et al. 2008b, Cheverud 2008), and that imprinting effects can be dependent on various factors such as sex (Hager et al 2008), cross-fostering status (Hager et al. 2009) and alleles present at other loci in the genome (Wolf and Cheverud 2009).  

Hager R, JM Cheverud & JB Wolf. 2009. Change in maternal environment induced by cross-fostering alters genetic and epigenetic effects on complex traits in mice.  Proceedings of the Royal Society B.  276:2949-1954.

Wolf JB & JM Cheverud. 2009 A framework for detecting and characterizing genetic background dependent imprinting effects.  Mammalian Genome.  20:681-698 

Hager R. JM Cheverud & JB Wolf. 2009 Relative contribution of additive, dominance and imprinting effects to phenotypic variation in body size and growth between divergent selection lines of mice.  Evolution 63:1118-1128

Wolf, JB, R Hager & JM Cheverud.  2008a. Genomic imprinting effects on complex traits: a phenotype based perspective.  Epigenetics 3(6):295-299

Wolf, JB, JM Cheverud, C Roseman & R Hager 2008. Genome-wide analysis reveals a complex pattern of genomic imprinting in mice.  PLoS Genetics,  4:e1000091 

Cheverud, JM, R Hager, G Fawcett, B Wang & JB Wolf.  2008 Genomic imprinting effects on adult body composition in mice.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA.  105:4253-4258.

Hager R, JM Cheverud, LJ Leamy & JB Wolf. 2008.  Sex dependent imprinting effects on complex traits in mice. BMC Evolutionary Biology,8:303 doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-303.



.evolutionary.genetics.of. .maternal.effects.

Earlier theoretical work on maternal effects includes population genetic (Wolf 2000) and quantitative genetic (Wolf and Brodie 1998) models of maternal-offspring interactions, and the role of maternal effects in sexual selection (Wolf et al. 1997, 1999).  More recent work has been focused on the problem of understanding what makes maternal effects different from other types of effects (e.g., Wolf and Wade 2009; Cheverud and Wolf 2009).  More theoretical work is ongoing and should be producing some interesting results soon.  Emprical work on maternal effects has been focused on understanding how to detect maternal effect loci (Wolf et al. 2002, 2011; Wolf & Cheverud 2012) and how to differentiate them from imprinted loci (Hager et al 2008).  


Wolf JB & JM Cheverud. 2012. Detecting maternal effect loci by statistical cross-fostering. Genetics. doi:10.1534/genetics.111.136440.

Wolf JB, LJ Leamy, CC Roseman, & JM Cheverud. 2011. Disentangling prenatal and postnatal maternal genetic effects reveals persistent prenatal effects on offspring growth. Genetics. 189:1069-1082

Hager R, JM Cheverud & JB Wolf. 2011. Genotype dependent responses to sibling competition over maternal resources in mice. Heredity doi:10.1038/hdy.2011.115

Wolf JB & MJ Wade.  2009. What are maternal effects (and what are they not)? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. 364:1107-1116

Cheverud JM & JB Wolf. 2009. Genetics and evolutionary consequences of maternal effects. Pages 11-37 In: Maternal Effects in Mammals, D. Maestripieri & J. M. Mateo eds., University of Chicago Press

Hager, R, JM Cheverud, & JB Wolf 2008. Maternal effects as the cause of parent-of-origin dependent effects that mimic genomic imprinting.  Genetics, 178:1755-1762

Wolf, JB Vaughn, TT, Pletscher, LS & JM Cheverud.  2002. Contribution of maternal effect QTL to genetic architecture of early growth in mice. Heredity 89:300-310

Wolf, JB, Brodie, EDIII., & AJ, Moore  1999.  Interacting phenotypes and the evolutionary process II: Selection resulting from social interactions. The American Naturalist  153:254-266

Wolf, JB, & ED Brodie III. 1998. Coadaptation of parental and offspring characters. Evolution  52:535-44

Wolf, JB, Moore AJ & ED Brodie III.  1997. The evolution of indicator traits for parental quality: the role of maternal and paternal effects. The American Naturalist 150: 639–649




.quantitative.genetics.of. .social.evolution.

Evolutionary theory:

Another diverse area of research in the Wolf lab is understanding the quantitative genetics of social evolution.   We have done a lot of work on understanding effects that arise when genes expressed in one individuals influence the phenotypes of  other individuals, which we refer to as indirect genetic effects.  Early work described the general evolutionary consequences of these effects (Moore et al. 1997; Wolf et al. 1998; see also McGlothlin 2010), which we have summarized in recent book chapters (Wolf & Moore 2010; Bleakley et al. 2010).  We have looked at how social interactions contribute (Wolf etla. 2007) to and can maintain (Harris et al 2007) genetic variation.


Wolf JB & AJ Moore. 2010. Interacting phenotypes and indirect genetic effects: a genetic perspective on the evolution of social behavior. In. Evolutionary Behavioral Ecology. CW Fox and DF Westneat Eds. pp 225-245.

Bleakley, BH, JB Wolf & Moore AJ 2010Quantitative genetics of social behavior. In. Social Behaviour: Genes, Ecology and Evolution. T. Szekely, J Komdeur & AJ Moore eds. Cambridge University Press. pp 29-54.

McGlothlin JW, AJ Moore, JB Wolf & ED Brodie III. 2010 Interacting phenotypes and the evolutionary process. III. Social evolution. Evolution 64(9):2558-2574

Wolf JB Harris WE & NJ Royle. 2007. The capture of heritable variation for genetic quality through social competition.  Genetica, doi:10.1007/s10709-007-9214-x. 

Harris WE, AJ McKane & JB Wolf. 2007. The maintenance of heritable variation through social competition. Evolution, 62:337-347

 Wolf JB, Brodie EDIII., Cheverud, JM, Moore AJ & MJ Wade. 1998 Evolutionary consequences of indirect genetic effects. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 13:64-69

Moore AJ, Brodie, EDIII & JB Wolf. 1997. Interacting phenotypes and the evolutionary process I: Indirect genetic effects and the evolution of social interactions. Evolution 51:1352-1362


Emprical analysis:

We have been using a diversity of experimental systems to examine the genetics of traits involved in social interactions.  Previous work has focused on flies (Wolf 2003), but more recently we have done a lot of work on plant systems (e.g., Mutic and Wolf 2007, Wolf et al. 2011).  Recent ongoing work (in collaboration with Chris Thompson - see the 'people' link) has focused on the slime-mold Dictyostelium discoideum.  We have found that 'Dicty' show a mixture of fixed and facultative social strategies (Butter et al 2009, 2010) that can be predicted to some degree from their production or and response to developmental signals (Parkinson et al. 2011).  Empirical work from these and other systems is in the process of being prepared for publication, so check back soon.

Wolf JB, JJ Mutic & PX Kover 2011. Functional genetics of ecological interactions in Arabidopsis thalianaPhilosophical Transaction of the Royal Society 366:1358-1367

Parkinson, K, NJ Buttery, JB Wolf* & CRL Thompson 2011. A simple mechanism for complex social behavior. PLoS Biology. 9:(3):e1001039

Buttery NJ, CRL Thompson & JB Wolf 2010. Complex genotype interactions influence social fitness during the development phase of the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum.Journal of Evolutionary Biology 23(8) 1664-1671

Buttery N, DE Rozen, JB Wol* & CR Thompson.  2009. Quantification of social behavior in Dictyostelium discoideum reveals complex fixed and facultative strategies.  Current Biology 19:1373-1377.

Mutic, JJ, & JB Wolf.  2007. Indirect genetic effects from ecological interactions in Arabidopsis thaliana. Molecular Ecology 16(11):2371-2381

Wolf, JB 2003. Evolution and genetic constraint when the environment contains genes.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA,  100: 4655-4660




.evolution.of.genetic. .architecture.

We have been modeling how various phenomena structure the genotype-phenotype relationship to understand the genetic architecture of complex traits.  We have also used these models to understand how these phenomena allow genetic architecture to evolve.  This is a diverse area of research in the Wolf lab, but includes work on how epistatic effects can change pleiotropic effects across genetic backgrounds (Wolf et al. 2005, 2006; Pavlicev et al 2007).  We have used a related model to understand how cross-environment genetic correlations evolve (Czesak et al 2006).  Work is continuing in this area to further understand how  genetic architecture and genetic correlations evolve.


Pavlicev, M, JP Kenney-Hunt, EA Norgard, C Roseman, JB Wolf & JM Cheverud.  2007. Genetic variation in pleiotropy: differential epistasis as a source of variation in the allometric relationship between long bone lengths and body weight.  Evolution,  62:199-213

Czesak, ME Fox CW & JB Wolf. 2006. Experimental evolution of phenotypic plasticity: How predictive are cross-environment genetic correlations?. The American Naturalist 168(3):323-335

Wolf, JB, Leamy, LJ, Routman, EJ & JM Cheverud. 2005. Epistatic pleiotropy and the genetic architecture of covariation within early- and late-developing skull trait complexes in mice.  Genetics, 171:683-694

Wolf, JB Pomp D, Eisen EJ, Cheverud JM & LJ Leamy 2006 The contribution of epistatic pleiotropy to the genetic architecture of covariation among polygenic traits in mice. Evolution & Development 8:468-76