How did vertebrates and their genomes evolve and what influenced their evolution? When and how did various groups of vertebrates come into existence? These are the key questions that professor Axel Janke investigates. His current research focuses on mammals and the more than thirty complete mammalian genomes.
In the 1990s, Janke sequenced and analysed countless mitochondrial genomes, and became one of the leaders in the field of mitogenomics. On the basis of his molecular data, it is possible to date the divergence times of vertebrates that are poorly represented in the fossil record. These phylogenomic studies strongly indicate that the evolution of many present day mammalian orders (such as rodents, artiodactyls, carnivores) had already begun in the mid-Cretaceous period 100 million years ago, which was dominated by the dinosaurs, and shows that dinosaurs and mammals must have co-existed for 35 million years. Analyses of whole genome data confirm these earlier findings, but further imply that some mammalian lineages did not derive from dichotomous divergences in the evolutionary tree, but that their evolution was a considerably more complex process, probably involving hybridisation of species. Consequently, Janke and his research group are working up their findings as multidimensional evolutionary trees, or so-called "networks". "This approach opens up completely new ways of looking at biodiversity and its origins", Janke explains. He is also convinced that new discoveries will be made by combining evolutionary data with climatic, geological and biogeographic developments. He thus wants to study whether and how such climatic adaption processes influenced gene and genome evolution. He investigates this using, for example, arctic mammals as a model. As Janke reports "During periods of climate warming, these animals could not retreat to colder climes by migrating further north. In order to survive they had to adapt to the rapid temperature changes throughout the past 2.5 million years (Pleistocene), a time of repeated glaciations and climate warming".
In addition to his, his scientific work, Janke heads the BiKF laboratory centre, which performs DNA-sequencing and provides other molecular data as well as technical support for the research centre. He plans to extend the service to bioinformatics, due to the sheer quantity and the complexity of next generation sequence data. In his teaching, e. g. the module "Evolutionary Genomics", Janke desires to impart students with an understanding of the complex processes of genomic evolution by providing them an introduction to molecular and bioinformation analysis procedures.
Axel Janke studied Biology at the University of Hamburg while attending postgraduate courses in molecular biology. He completed his doctorate with the title "Structure, Function and Evolution of the Mammalian Mitochondrial Genome" at the Zoological Institute of Munich University in 1995. After continuing his research for six months as a postdoctoral researcher in Munich, he continued his career at the Genetic Institute of Lund University, Sweden, which was then a centre for molecular evolutionary studies. He was appointed assistant lecturer in 1998, full lecturer there in 1999 and became professor in Genetics in 2010. Later on in 2010, he was appointed to a professorship at the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiKF) of the Senckenberg Nature Research Society and of the Goethe University Frankfurt.
Prof. Dr. Axel Janke
Institute for Ecology, Evolution and
Diversity/Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre
60325 Frankfurt am Main
Telephone: +49 (0)69 7542 1840