Colgan, Joseph Dr.

Joseph Colgan

Group Leader

Curriculum Vitae

Since 2020 Assistant professor / Group leader, JGU Mainz, Germany
2018-2020 Senior postdoctoral researcher (Lab of Dr. Tom Reed), University College Cork, Ireland
2015-2017 Postdoctoral researcher (Lab of Dr. Yannick Wurm), Queen Mary University of London, UK
2008-2014 PhD (Lab of Prof. Mark J.F. Brown), University of Dublin, Trinity College, Ireland
2007-2008 MSc (Immunology and Global Health), Maynooth University, Ireland
2003-2007 BSc (Zoology), University College Dublin, Ireland

Research Interests

Our group investigates the genetic basis, evolution and expression of complex phenotypes and life-histories. To achieve this, we use a range of behavioural, molecular, genomic, immunological and computational techniques with our primary study system being bumblebees as well as other social insects. If you have any questions related to our group, research interests or are interested in doing a bachelor, master, PhD or postdoc in the group, please get in contact as it would be great to hear from you.

Phenotypic plasticity in social insects

I am interested in understanding the genomic architecture and molecular mechanisms underlying phenotypic plasticity, whereby a single genotype can give rise to multiple phenotypes. Social insects present a particularly interesting group as the genome not only codes for two distinct sexes but also behaviourally and physiologically castes, which perform different functions in the colony. Using comparative genomic and functional genomics, such as transcriptomics and proteomics, I’m interested in understanding how such plasticity and diversity has evolved and is expressed within these groups. Previous work has focused on comparative genomic analyses of bumblebee species (Sadd et al. 2015, Genome Biology), as well as how differentially expressed genes can give rise to different life-cycle stages, castes and sexes in the buff-tailed bumblebee, Bombus terrestris (Colgan et al. 2011, BMC Genomics).

Ecological and evolutionary genomics

Bees are a highly successful group of pollinators, key for biodiversity stability and maintenance of agricultural crop yields. Despite their importance, bee populations are in decline with factors, such as habitat fragmentation and loss, pesticide usage, emerging pathogens and disease, competition from commercial bees, as well as climate change identified as contributing factors. Understanding how pollinators will respond to ongoing and future environmental challenges is therefore highly important. Previous research has assessed behavioural (Arce et al. 2017, Journal of Applied Ecology; Arce et al. 2018, Proc. B.) and molecular changes (Colgan et al 2019., Mol Ecol.) in bumblebees exposed to common neonicotinoid insecticides while current research examines the application of population genomics to understand genetic diversity and adaptive potential of contemporary populations.

Host-parasite interactions and immunogenomics

Host-parasite interactions are among the most dynamic interactions in the biological world. Both parties exert enormous selection pressures that have shaped their individual, as well as co-evolution. I am interested in how such systems evolved and the molecular mechanisms used by hosts to avoid, resist or tolerate infection, as well as those used by parasites to find, infect and exploit hosts, especially those that result in dramatic changes in host phenotype. Previous research in this area has explored the genomic architecture underlying immune potential in bumblebees (Barribeau et al. 2015, Genome Biology), as well as how bumblebee immune expression changes in response to mating, diapause (Colgan et al. 2019, BMC Genomics), and nematode challenge (Colgan et al. 2020, Insect Molecular Biology).


Colgan TJ, Arce AN, Gill RJ, Ramos Rodrigues A, Kanteh A, Duncan EJ, Li L, Chittka L, Wurm Y. Genomic signatures of recent adaptation in a wild bumblebee. Molecular Biology & Evolution (Accepted).

Wynne R, Archer CL, Hutton SA, Harman L, Gargan P, Moran PA, Dillane E, Coughlan J, Cross TF, McGinnity P, Colgan TJ, Reed TE. Alternative migratory tactics in brown trout (Salmo trutta) are underpinned by divergent regulation of metabolic but not neurological genes. Ecology & Evolution, 2021.

Colgan TJ, Moran PA, Archer L, Hutton S, Wynne R, McGinnity P, Reed TE. Evolution and expression of the immune system of a faculatively anadromous salmonid. Frontiers in Immunology, 2021.

Colgan TJ, Carolan JC, Sumner S, Blaxter ML, Brown MJF. Infection by the castrating parasitic nematode Sphaerularia bombi changes gene expression in Bombus terrestris bumblebee queens. Insect Molecular Biology, 2020.

Colgan TJ, Finlay S, Brown MJF, Carolan JC. Mating precedes selective immune priming that is maintained throughout queen diapause. BMC Genomics, 2019.

Colgan TJ, Fletcher IK, Arce AN, Gill RJ, Ramos-Rodrigues A, Stolle E, Chittka L, Wurm Y. Caste- and pesticide-specific effects of neonicotinoid pesticide exposure on gene expression in bumblebees. Molecular Ecology, 2019.

Arce AN, Ramos-Rodrigues A, Yu J, Colgan TJ, Wurm Y, Gill RJ. Foraging bumblebees acquire a preference for pesticide treated food. Proc. B. Roy. Soc., 2018.

Arce AN, David TI, Randall EL, Ramos Rodrigues A, Colgan TJ, Wurm Y, Gill RJ. Impact of neonicotinoid exposure on bumblebee foraging and colony performance in a field setting. Journal of Applied Ecology, 2017.

International Bumblebee Genomics Consortium (including Colgan TJ): The genomes of two key bumblebee species with primitive eusocial organization. Genome Biology, 2015.

Barribeau SM, Sadd B, du Plessis L, Brown MJF, Buechel S, Carolan JC, Christiaens O, Colgan TJ, Erler S, Evans J, Helbing S, Kraus E, Lattorff HMG, Marxer M, Meeus I, Näpflin K, Schmid-Hempel R, Smagghe G, Waterhouse R, Na Y, Zdobnov EM, Schmid-Hempel P: A depauperate immune repertoire precedes evolution of sociality in bees. Genome Biology, 2015.

 Colgan TJ, Carolan JC, Bridgett SJ, Sumner S, Blaxter ML, Brown MJF: Polyphenism in social insects: insights from a transcriptome-wide analysis of gene expression in the life stages of the key pollinator, Bombus terrestris. BMC Genomics, 2011.