Dr. Jaqueline Heß

Contact / Address

Dr. Jaqueline Heß

Department of Soil Ecology
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ
Theodor-Lieser-Strasse 4 | D-06120 Halle/Saale



I'm an evolutionary biologist studying genome evolution in fungi, with a particular focus on how different genome evolutionary mechanisms drive adaptation to new niches or the formation of new species. My research revolves around two overarching themes: How do fungi perceive and respond to their biotic and abiotic environment and which mutational mechanisms and functional groups of genes are important for facilitating evolutionary change?

To answer these questions, my work employs the integrative use of experimental approaches and comparative genomics, including de novo genome sequencing and phylogenomics, transcriptomics and population genomics.

Research Projects

OakMycEvo - Functional Ecology of Ectomycorrhizal Fungi

Ectomycorrhizal symbiosis, a mutualistic association between plants and fungi, has emerged repeatedly in different clades of fungi. This symbiosis is critical for healthy forest ecosystems, but the functional and evolutionary diversity among ectomycorrhizal fungi remains poorly understood, especially at fine evolutionary scales.

The goal of this project is to understand the diversity of communication mechanisms and effects on the host plant asserted by closely-related ectomycorrhizal fungi of the genus Amanita (fly agaric and relatives). To this end, we have paired different species of Amanita with the oak clone DF 159 to synthesize mycorrhizae in a laboratory setting. Using plant growth phenotyping and bilateral -omics analyses we hope to improve understanding of the mechanisms of communication employed by each partner to negotiate development of mycorrhizae and nutrient exchange and their evolution.

This project is funded by the ERC H2020-MSCA-IF project 838196.

Relevant publications:

Hess, J, I Skrede, M Chaib De Mares, M Hainaut, B Henrissat, and A Pringle. 2018. “Rapid Divergence of Genome Architectures Following the Origin of an Ectomycorrhizal Symbiosis in the Genus Amanita.” Molecular Biology and Evolution 35 (11): 2786–2804. https://doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msy179.

Wang, YW, J Hess, JC Slot, and A Pringle. 2020 “De Novo Gene Birth, Horizontal Gene Transfer and Gene Duplication as Sources of New Gene Families Associated with the Origin of Symbiosis in Amanita.” Genome Biology and Evolution. https://doi.org/10.1093/gbe/evaa193.

Niche differentiation and the evolution of wood decay in fungi

Dead wood represents a recalcitrant food source, harboring large communities of organisms that inhabit and decay fallen logs in a successional manner. The niches of wood decay fungi are defined by a variety of different axes, including the composition of different woody substrates, competition by other organisms or changes in micronutrient composition and pH over time.

Decay fungi have evolved a spectrum of decay strategies, including different degrees of substrate specialization or preferred successional stage. As such, they provide great model systems to study the evolution of wood decay machineries in the context of niche breadth.

Relevant publications:

Hess, J, SV Balasundaram, RI Bakkemo, E Drula, B Henrissat, N Högberg, D Eastwood, and I Skrede. 2020. “Niche Differentiation and Evolution of the Wood Decay Machinery in the Invasive Fungus Serpula Lacrymans.” The ISME Journal, October, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41396-020-00799-5.

CV / Scientific Career

since October 2019

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow, Department of Soil Ecology, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Halle (Saale), Germany

October 2016 - August 2019

Senior Scientist, Department of Botany and Biodiversity Research, University of Vienna, Austria

February 2014 - October 2016

Postdoc, Section for Genetics and Evolutionary Biology, Department of Biosciences, University of Oslo, Norway

February 2011 - February 2014

Postdoc, Department of Organismal and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA.

October 2006 - February 2011

Ph.D. student, European Bioinformatics Institute and University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. Thesis: "Evolution of Transcription Factor Repertoires in the Saccharomycotina". Supervisor: Nick Goldman.

September 2003 - June 2006

BSc Bioinformatics, Queen Mary, University of London, London, UK.