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Niclas Backström

Postdoctoral Fellow funded by the Swedish Research Council (VR)

Address:
Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
Museum of Comparative Zoology
MCZ Labs Room 304
Harvard University
26 Oxford Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Tel: +1-617-496-2397
Cell: +1-857-756-0083
Fax: +1-617-495-5667
Email: backstr(at)fas.harvard.edu
Optional email: Niclas.Backstrom(at)ebc.uu.se

 

Download a pdf of my CV here

 



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Education:

  • 2009 PhD in Evolutionary Genetics at Uppsala University, Sweden

  • 2004 MSc in Biology at Uppsala University, Sweden

Research Interests:

A long term goal for me, and in evolutionary biology in general, is to reveal the genetic basis of phenotypic traits in natural populations. Of particular interest are traits that are known to affect individual fitness and traits that contribute to the build up of reproductive isolation and speciation. Not before that knowledge has been established can we track the fate of specific genotypes in nature and get solid understanding of the forces creating biodiversity. I also have a broad interest in molecular evolution in general and I study for example the relative importance of selection, drift, recombination, mutation and demographic history in shaping genetic and phenotypic diversity. With the increasing availability of data I hope to take part in disentangling the effects of regulatory and structural changes and quantifying the commonness and significance of splicing variants, epistasis and pleiotropy in genomes.

                                 zebrafinches                          collared flycatcher Niclas Backstrom Pic

                               Zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata)                                Collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis)


I use many different study systems and collaborate with many other researchers to answer the questions I am interested in, the red line so far has been that the lionpart of the study species have been birds. I did my PhD on Ficedula flycatchers in Europe. In these black and white flycatchers I mainly focused on the genetics of speciation and on creating genetic maps with the aim of finding the genetic basis of fitness characters. The Ficedula has since then turned into a budding model system also for genomic work and holds promise of becoming one of the most important systems for the identification of genotype-phenotype relations in the wild. I have also studied captive populations of zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), for example to identify the genetic basis of morphological and behavioral traits and to investigate the effect of recombination on different genomic parameters.

snowcock                     pheasant

                      Himalayan snowcock (Tetraogallus himalayensis)        Common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)


In addition - in what perhaps could be viewed as genomics from a conservation biological perspective - I am interested in the genetics of speciation and the role of demographic history in shaping genetic and phenotypic diversity in greater and lesser spotted eagles (Aquila) in Europe and western Asia, and in inferring the demographic history and biogeography of the Himalayan snowcock (Tetraogallus himalayensis) and the common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) in eastern and central Asia. Furthermore, although not doing hands-on work directly on them, I use information from avian species with well characterized genomes, eg. chicken (Gallus gallus) and turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) in comparative work and as a tool to develop markers in our non-model species and to find information about chromosome location of genes etcetera.

house finch Niclas Backstrom Pic                        spotted

                       House finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)                       Greater spotted eagle (Aquila clanga) 



The main focus is, however, currently the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), a passerine native to western North America. This species has a very interesting history. As a result of the authoroties banning the extensive pet trade of what was known as Hollywood finches, captive specimens of the house finch were released into the wild in eastern United States. Little is known about how many birds were involved or at how many locations this happened but we do know that released birds established a free-living population on Long Island in the New York City area around 1940. After a slow start, this population grew rapidly and subsequently spread all over eastern North America. In 1994, a strain of Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG), derived from domestic poultry struck the eastern populations and caused the death of an estimated number of 250-300 Million birds. The disease spread rapidly over the continent and caused severe population declines as it passed through. The dynamics of the epizootic was monitored in detail thanks to the project feeder watch initiated and maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It took some time before the disease was transmitted from introduced eastern populations, over the Rockies, and into native western populations but in 2000 the first case of MG was observed in Montana. Today, the only known unaffected populations are found in Texas, New Mexico and central Arizona. However, there might still be naive populations scattered in different parts of other states west of the Rockies. My work aims at quantifying the genomic effects of this extreme epizootic and try to find genomic regions that can have an effect on disease susceptibility and resistance. Besides that I am interested in understanding the severity of the bottleneck in the introduced population in eastern United States and to look at the genomic consequences of this founder event. I apply full genome sequencing, transcriptome re-sequencing and candidate gene approaches using birds from different parts of North America and analyze the data from a population genetic point of view.

My previous research has resulted in some publications and these can be found below. Most of them are available as pdf files. Further below there is information about published abstracts and presentations, funding and the journals for which I have been honored to do manuscript reviews.




Publications (download by clicking pdf-icon):

  • Backström, N., and Väli, U. 2011. Sex- and species biased gene flow in a spotted eagle hybrid zone. BMC Evolutionary Biology 11: 100

  • Ruan, L.,  An, B., Backström, N., Luo, H., Wen, L., Zhang, L., Liu, N. 2010. Phylogeographic structure and gene flow of the Himalayan snowcock (Tetraogallus himalayensis). Animal Biology 60: 449-465.

  • Backström, N., Lindell, J., Palkopoulou, E., Zhang, Y., Qvarnström, A., Sætre, G.-P., and Ellegren, H. 2010. A high-density scan of the Z-chromosome in Ficedula flycatchers reveals candidate loci for diversifying selection and speciation. Evolution 64: 3461-3475.

  • Backström, N., Palkopoulou, E., Qvarnström, and Ellegren, H. 2010. No evidence for Z-chromosome rearrangements between the pied flycatcher and the collared flycatcher as judged by gene-based comparative genetic maps. Molecular Ecology 19: 3394-3405.

  • Völker, M., Backström, N., Skinner, B. M., Langley, E. J., Bunzey, S. K., Ellegren, H., and Griffin, D. K. 2010. Copy number variation, chromosome rearrangement and recombination during avian evolution. Genome Research 20: 503-511.

  • Nam, K., Mugal, C., Nabholz, B., Schielzeth, H., Wolf, J. B. W., Backström, N., Künstner, A., Balakrishan, C. N., Heger, A., Ponting, C., Clayton, D. F., and Ellegren, H. 2010. Molecular evolution of genes in avian genomes. Genome Biology 11: R68.
  • Wolf, J. B. W., Lindell, J., and Backström, N. 2010. Speciation genetics: current status and evolving approaches (Review). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 365: 1717-1733.
  • Backström, N., Forstmeier, W., Schielzeth, H., Mellenius, H., Nam, K., Bolund, E., Webster, M. T., Öst, T., Schneider, M., Kempenaers, B., and Ellegren, H. 2010. The recombination landscape of the zebra finch Taeniopygia guttata genome. Genome Research 20: 485-495.
  • International Zebra Finch Genome Sequencing Consortium. 2010. The genome of a songbird. Nature 464: 757-762.
  • Künstner, A., Wolf, J. B. W., Backström, N., Whitney, O.,Balakrishnan, C. N., Day, L., Edwards, S. V., Janes, D. E., Schlinger, B. A., Wilson, R. K., Jarvis, E., Warren, W. E., and Ellegren, H. 2009. Comparative genomics based on massive parallel transcriptome sequencing reveals patterns of substitution and selection across 10 bird species. Molecular Ecology 19: 266-276.
  • Backström, N., Karaiskou, N., Leder, E. H., Gustafsson, L., Primmer, C., Qvarnström, A., and Ellegren, H. 2008. A gene-based genetic linkage map of the collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis) reveals extensive synteny and gene order conservation during 100 million years of avian evolution. Genetics 179: 1479-1495.
  • Backström, N., Fagerberg, S., and Ellegren, H. 2007. Genomics of natural bird populations: a gene-based set of reference markers evenly spread across the avian genome. Molecular Ecology 17: 964-980.
  • Backström, N., Brandström, M., Gustafsson, L., Qvarnström, A., Cheng, H., and Ellegren, H. 2006. Genetic mapping in a natural population of collared flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis): conserved synteny but gene order rearrangements on the avian Z chromosome. Genetics 174: 377-386.
  • Backström, N., Gustafsson, L., Qvarnström, A., and Ellegren, H. 2006. Levels of linkage disequilibrium (LD) in a wild bird population. Biology Letters 2: 435-438.
  • Berlin, S., Brandström, M., Backström, N., Axelsson, E., Smith, N.G.C., and Ellegren, H. 2006. Substitution rate heterogeneity and the male mutation bias. Journal of Molecular Evolution 62: 226-233.
  • Backström, N., Ceplitis, H., Berlin, S., & Ellegren, H. 2005. Gene conversion drives the evolution of HINTW, an ampliconic gene on the female-specific avian W chromosome. Molecular Biology and Evolution 22: 1992-1999.
  • International Chicken Genome Sequencing Consortium. 2004. Sequencing and comparative analysis of the chicken genome. Nature 432: 695-716.
  • Lindgren, G., Backström, N., Swinburne, J., Hellborg, L., Einarsson, A., Sandberg, K., Vilà, C., Binns, M. & Ellegren, H. 2004. Limited number of patrilines in horse domestication. Nature Genetics 36: 335-336.
genetics1 molecol1 nature1 genres biollett molecol3  evolution natgen

Manuscripts in review and preparation

  • Alcaide, M., Bonneaud, C., Backström, N., Liu, M., and Edwards, S. V. Geographic and diachronic analysis of Toll-like receptor variation in an invasive species, the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus). [In Prep.]
  • Schielzeth, H., Backström, N., Kempenaers, B., Forstmeier, W., and Ellegren, H. QTL mapping for fatness and size in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). [In Prep.]
  • Zhang, L., An, B., Backström, N., Ruan, L., Liu, N. Hybridization and mitochondrial introgression in a contact zone of common pheasant subspecies (Phasianus colchicus sp.) [In Prep.]
  • Backström, N., Kärf, G., Sætre, G.-P., and Ellegren, H. Inferring the demographic history of European Ficedula flycatcher populations. [In Prep.]
  • Backström, N., Zhang, Q., and Edwards, S. V. Comparative transcriptomics in birds unravels genes under adaptive evolution in passerines and galloanseriforms. [In Prep.]
  • Backström, N., Shipilina, D., and Edwards, S. V. Population re-sequencing of three candidate genes for immune response in the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) reveals significant variation in genetic diversity and density of putative regulatory elements. [In Prep.]

  • Campbell-Staton, S., co-authors, Backström, N., and Edwards, S. V. Phylogeography of the green anole (Anolis carolinensis). [In Prep.]
  • Backström, N., and Edwards, S. V. The spleen transcriptome of the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus); expression differences and allele frequency comparisons between populations naïve and exposed to Mycoplasma gallisepticum. [In Prep.]
  • Backström, N., Hill, G. E., and Edwards, S. V. A draft genome sequence of the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), a model species for sexual selection and host-parasite interactions. [In Prep.]
  genres mbe animbiol molecol2  nature2  genetics2 ptrsb

Invited talks

  • 2011. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, United States. Genome evolution and differentiation in natural populations of birds.
  • 2009. Swedish Agricultural University, Uppsala, Sweden. Genetic mapping in non-model species.
  • 2009. Biological station of Doñana, Seville, Spain. Trying to reveal the genetic basis of evolutionary important traits in Ficedula flycatchers.


Published abstracts and presentations

  • 2011. Backström, N., Hill, G. E., and Edwards, S. V. American Genetics Association (AGA), Guanajuato, Mexico. Genome, transcriptome and candidate gene sequencing in the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), a model species for sexual selection and host-pathogen interactions.
  • 2011. Backström, N., Hill, G. E., and Edwards, S. V. Evolution, Oklahoma City, OK, United States. Towards a draft genome of the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), a model species for sexual selection and host-pathogen interactions.
  • 2011. Alcaide, M., Bonneaud, C., Backström, N., Liu, M., and Edwards, S. V. Evolution, Oklahoma City, OK, United States. Geographic and diachronic analysis of Toll-like receptor variation in an invasive species, the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus). Main author: Miguel Alcaide
  • 2010. Backström, N., Lindell, J., Palkopoulou, E., Zhang, Y., Qvarnström, A., Sætre, G.-P., and Ellegren, H. International Ornithological Congress (IOC), Campos do Jordão, Brazil. Scanning for signs of selection and chromosomal rearrangements on the Z-chromosome in closely related European Ficedula flycatcher species.

  • 2010. Väli. Ü, and Backström, N. International Ornithological Congress (IOC), Campos do Jordão, Brazil. Hybridization and gene flow between the greater and the lesser spotted eagle (Aquila clanga, A. pomarina). Main author: Ülo Väli.

  • 2009. Backström, N., Lindell, J., Palkopoulou, E., Zhang, Y., Qvarnström, A., Sætre, G.-P., and Ellegren, H. Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE), Iowa City, IA, United States. Scanning the Z-chromosome of two flycatcher species for signs of diversifying selection.

  • 2008. Backström, N., Lindell, J., Palkopoulou, E., Zhang, Y., Qvarnström, A., Sætre, G.-P., and Ellegren, H. Population Genetics Group Meeting (PopGroup), Cardiff, Wales, GBR. Scanning the Z-chromosome of two flycatcher species for signs of diversifying selection.

  • 2008. Backström, N., and Ellegren, H. International Congress of Genetics, Berlin, Germany. Genetic mapping in a natural population of collared flycatchers.

  • 2008. Backström, N., and Ellegren, H. Evolution, Minneapolis, MN, United States. Genetic mapping in collared flycatchers.

  • 2008. Backström, N., Karaiskou, N., Leder, E. H., Gustafsson, L., Primmer, C., Qvarnström, A., and Ellegren, H. Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE), Barcelona, Spain. A genome wide genetic map of a natural population of collared flycatchers.

  • 2007. Backström, N., Brandström, M., Gustafsson, L., Qvarnström, A., Cheng, H., and Ellegren, H. European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB), Uppsala, Sweden. Gene mapping in a wild bird population.

  • 2007. Backström, N., Brandström, M., Gustafsson, L., Qvarnström, A., Cheng, H., and Ellegren, H. Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE), Halifax, Canada. SNP-based gene mapping in a wild bird population.

  • 2005. Backström, N., Brandström, M., Gustafsson, L., Qvarnström, A., Cheng, H., and Ellegren, H. Population Genetics Group Meeting (PopGroup), Edinburgh, Scotland, GBR. Linkage mapping in a wild bird population.

  • 2005. Backström, N., Ceplitis, H., Berlin, S., & Ellegren, H. European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB), Cracow, Poland. Gene conversion drives the evolution of HINTW, an ampliconic gene on the female specific avian W-chromosome.

  • 2004. Backström, N., Ceplitis, H., Berlin, S., & Ellegren, H. Population Genetics Group Meeting (PopGroup), Reading, England, GBR. Gene conversion drives the evolution of HINTW, an ampliconic gene on the female specific avian W-chromosome.

  • 2004. Berlin, S., Brandström, M., Backström, N., Axelsson, E., Smith, N.G.C., and Ellegren, H. Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE), Genomes and Evolution, Penn State, United States. Substitution rate variation and the male mutation bias. Main author: Sofia Berlin


Grants and scholarships

  • 2011.   Nilsson-Ehle-fonden, Kungl. Fysiografiska Sällskapet i Lund. The genetics of reproductive isolation in a chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita sp.) hybrid zone.
  • 2011.   Swedish Research Council (VR). Quantification of alternative splicing in natural populations of birds.
  • 2011.   National Science Foundation China (NSFC). Genetic and phenotypic differentiation in the common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus spp.). Co-Investigator with Bei An and Lixun Zhang, Lanzhou University, China
  • 2011.   Putnam Expedition Grant, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University. Museum collections improvement trip to Mongolia. With Scott V. Edwards (PI) and Jeremiah Trimble
  • 2009.   Swedish Research Council (VR) - 2 year Post-Doc at Harvard University. Evolutionary genetics of disease resistance in the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus).

  • 2008.   Helge Ax:son Johnsons Stiftelse.

  • 2007.   Rektors resebidrag från Wallenbergstiftelsen

  • 2007.   Nilsson-Ehle-fonden, Kungl. Fysiografiska Sällskapet i Lund

  • 2007.   Stiftelsen Lars Hiertas Minnesfond

  • 2007.   Kungliga Vetenskapsakademien

  • 2006.   Nilsson-Ehle-fonden, Kungl. Fysiografiska Sällskapet i Lund


Referee work

  • Evolution, Hereditas, Immunogenetics, Journal of Avian Biology, Journal of Heredity, Journal of Molecular Evolution, Molecular Biology and Evolution, Molecular Ecology, Molecular Ecology Resources, PLoS One


Conference organizing activities

  • 2009.   Organizer of a symposium on “Speciation genetics and recent divergences” at the SMBE 2009 meeting in Iowa City, IA, USA

  • 2009.   Organizer of a symposium on “Speciation” at the SMBE 2009 meeting in Iowa City, IA, USA



Museum collections management


During my stay at Harvard Museum of Natural History I have learned museum collections management and curation. I have done field trips to collect specimens for the museum and had extensive training in both skin and osteological preparations and in methods for long-term storage of tissue samples and extracted nucleic acids.

 

nsfc

auburnlogo mczlogo hmnh lanzhou

 


 

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