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Rampant introgression in Mediterranean wall lizards                                       May 18th pale_line

A new paper in Nature Communications shows that wall lizards isolated from each other for millions of years have found each other and shared genes. By comparing DNA sequences from 34 major lineages, Yang and Nathalie could reveal that some species – like those on the Balearic Islands – derive from ancient hybridization events. Their genomes are really mosaics, with equal contribution from each parental lineage, but extensive introgression between species has been a pervasive feature throughout wall lizard evolution. The results also provide insights into how major events in the Mediterranean, like the Messinian Salinity Crises, have contributed to lineage diversification. For a popular summary, please see here.

These results open up many opportunities for further study. Did admixture contribute to the extraordinary phenotypic diversification of some species? How do hybrid genomes evolve? Are there general patterns of introgression, and can introgressed alleles be tied to adaptive trait evolution? How does reproductive isolation evolve? If you are interested in taking on any of these questions – or others – please do not hesitate to get in touch!

Climate causes a geographic mosaic of colour ornamentation       May 9th pale_line

Why do some species vary so much in colouration from one population to another? A new paper in the American Naturalist shows that this can sometimes be explained by climatic effects on sexual selection. Mara’s first thesis chapter is the latest of our efforts to unravel the evolutionary origin and spread of sexual ornamentation in wall lizards. Using data from 114 populations, we show that ornamentation closely tracks climatic regimes, both within its lineage-of-origin as well as during introgression. These results help to explain the extraordinary colour variation in common wall lizards across the Italian landscape, something that has puzzled naturalists for well over a century.

New paper on Anolis evolution                                                    March 9th pale_line

Do episodes of adaptive radiation influence the capacity for evolution in the descendent lineages? Does the colonization of islands – with their ecological opportunities – affect the mode and speed by which novel forms are generated? If you would like to get a lizards eye’s perspective on these and other macroevolutionary questions, you should read our new paper in Nature Communications. Using hundreds of Anolis skeletons, Nathalie and Illiam have uncovered that the colonization of Caribbean islands had long-lasting effects on evolutionary trends of hundreds of species. Read more here.

PhD position available                                                                     Dec 8th pale_line

Are you interested in Evo-Devo and looking for a PhD? Nathalie is now recruiting for her new project on the developmental basis of parallel evolution in wall lizards. Please contact her (nathalie.feiner@biol.lu.se) for more information on the project and our research group!

Advert and how to apply can be found here!

Congratulations Dr Hegg!!!                                                            Nov 27th


Alex successfully defended his thesis this Friday in front of a big online crowd – and a small dedicated one IRL. Many thanks to the opponent, Blake Matthews, and the committee for their engaging and interesting discussion. The committee was particularly impressed with the combination of lab and field studies, and we can only agree. Most chapters are in review and will hopefully appear soon enough – if you can’t wait, Alex’s thesis can be found here.

Alex nails his thesis!                                                                      Nov 20th pale_line

Here it is! Alex’s thesis Adaptive and non-adaptive responses to toxin-producing cyanobacteria in water fleas is officially out. Following the Lund tradition, Alex nailed his thesis to the old tree trunk in the Ecology Building, where it can now be admired by everyone. Following the new corona tradition, the audience followed the action via zoom, but the achievement was still duly celebrated with a glass of whisky. Next up is the viva – Friday the 27th!

Nathalie receives VR Establishment Grant!                                    Oct 29th pale_line

They keep on coming!!! First ERC, and now the Swedish Research Council! Nathalie’s new establishment grant runs for four years, and means further expansion into the world of diversification and parallel evolution in wall lizards. Many congratulations, Nathalie!!

Out Now: Philosophy of Science for Biologists                              Oct 16th pale_line

It has been difficult for biologists to navigate their way into the bewildering literature on philosophy of science. This new book, edited by Tobias and Kostas Kampourakis, should make that easier. We hope that the book will be inspiring for students and academics across biology – we’ll begin by putting it to the test in a PhD course here at Lund.

New paper throws doubt on a popular idea                                     Oct 9th pale_line

If the lizards in your garden have either red, yellow or white throats, it just seems that those colours must signal something. One of the most popular ideas is that they represent alternative mating tactics, or different social strategies. A new paper from a collaborative project with our friends from Spain and France throws doubt on this explanation for the colour polymorphism in common wall lizards. Read more here.

Nathalie is awarded an ERC Starting Grant!!!                                 Sept 4th pale_line

Yes!!!!!!! We are extremely happy to announce that Nathalie has been awarded one of the biggest and most prestigious grants in Europe. Fully funded for five years, her research is set to expand our understanding of the developmental causes of parallel evolution. And, yes, it is all on wall lizards!!! Take note if you are looking for PhD or postdocs positions at the interface of genomics, developmental and evolutionary biology – this is your chance to take it to the next level!

A major blow to the ’plasticity-first’ hypothesis?                            Aug 17th pale_line

Skeletal morphology is a classic candidate for ‘plasticity-led’ evolution. Mary-Jane West-Eberhard and Jonathan Losos have both suggested that the adaptive radiation of Anolis ecomorphs on the Greater Antillean islands is one example. It does seem rather intuitive, but there has been no attempt to put this idea to the test. But now our new paper in eLife by Nathalie and co-workers does exactly that. And it shows that developmental plasticity is in fact very unlikely to have been important to ecomorph evolution. Read more here.

Does evolution go where plasticity leads?                                   June 15th pale_line

Mary-Jane West-Eberhard famously suggested that plasticity ‘takes the lead’ in adaptive evolution. But how can you tell if you are not there to see it happen? In a new paper in Evolution Letters, we show one way to tackle the problem – here is a quick summary of what we did and what we found.

New paper on wall lizard hybrid zones in Evolution                     May 21st pale_line

Remember the introgression of sexually selected colours in wall lizards? If not, see here and here. In our new paper in Evolution, we show that this genomic introgression is only asymmetric where the colours exist – when both lineages are dull, they exchange genes in equal amounts.

Yang’s and Nathalie’s work is further evidence that competition between males is responsible for asymmetric introgression of traits and genes. They also show that there are some interesting signatures of reproductive isolation in the genome. Overall, we seem to have caught speciation in the act – these lineages have a leaky reproductive barrier where behavioural interactions can both promote and limit gene flow.

Tobias is elected to the Royal Physiographic Society                      May 7th pale_line

Founded in 1772, the Royal Physiographic Society of Lund is an academy for the natural sciences, medicine and technology. Fondly known as Fysiografen, the society organizes symposia, recognizes scientific achievements through prizes and medals, and supports research through several grant schemes.

How to fit in: The learning principles of cell differentiation          Apr 27th pale_line

In a new paper published in PLoS Computational Biology, Miguel Brun-Usan and colleagues have explored how plastic, developing cells can “know” where and how to differentiate. Given that cells are equipped with genetic networks, could they benefit from some form of basic learning, as cognitive systems do with neural networks? Using a series of elegant models, Miguel shows that yes, differentiating cells can indeed exhibit basic learning capabilities that enable them to acquire the right cell fate. If you want to know how far the analogy between developing and learning can be stretched, you can find the answer in the paper, or explained in a blog post on the EES webpage.

Field work cancelled                                                                      Mar 17th pale_line

The coronavirus prevents the big Mediterranean field season that Nathalie, Tobias and Geoff had planned. But the lizards won’t go anywhere – we look forward to visiting them next year!

New paper in theme issue on George Price’s legacy                       Mar 2nd pale_line

A new paper by Tobias and Heikki Helanterä explains how different perspectives on heredity motivates researchers to go to the Price Equation. Read the paper and the other contributions to this theme issue in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Nematodes get from lizard mums to the brains of their offspring Jan 23th pale_line

Sometimes your study organism guides you into scientific territory that you wouldn’t have dreamed of entering. When Nathalie discovered nematodes in the brains of lizard embryos, this was the start for our brief excursion into the world of nematology. We teamed up with experts in this field and together we could show what appears to be the first evidence that nematodes can get from mums to offspring through the amniote egg. This really seems to be how this nematode lives its life. The results are now online at the American Naturalist. Read more about our discovery here.

Lund invades Tjärnö Marine Biology Station!                                 Jan 17th pale_line

The 2020 Evolution in Sweden meeting took place in beautiful Bohuslän, at the marine biology station of the University of Gothenburg. Lund was well represented as usual, and our own group sent no less than seven delegates. Two days were filled with talks covering a range of evolutionary biology and many different organisms. Robin, Nathalie, and Miguel gave great talks that exposed everyone else to a healthy bit of evo-devo. It is always really nice to see our colleagues from around Sweden – many thanks to everyone at Tjärnö for making us feel so welcome! Looking forward to Uppsala 2022!

Robin defends his thesis!                                                               Dec 16thpale_line

After a fantastic year, the time had come for Robin to defend his MSc thesis. And as he did it! After a wonderful presentation on why understanding development holds the key to understand evolution, he effortlessly explained and discussed his work on the diamond patterning of Anolis lizards. Many congratulations, Robin!!

Goodbye Hanna!                                                                               Nov 1stpale_line

After more than four years in Lund, Hanna has been summoned back to Helsinki and the Natural History Museum. As coordinator, she will keep track of both the collection and the scientists, tasks that we are sure her time in Lund has prepared her for very well! Hanna has been an highly valued colleague and friend and we are extremely sad to see her go. All the best of luck, Hanna, we hope to see you soon again!!

Wall lizards on repeat                                                                   Oct 11th pale_line

The Tage Erlander Symposium was followed by a wall lizard workshop, an event that is now becoming a bit of a tradition. Our friends and colleagues from southern Europe joined us for a day full of interesting talks and discussion of future plans. We are happy to announce that – thanks to the Tage Erlander Prize – our wall lizard project will now go comparative with the aim to reveal the developmental basis of the parallel evolution of exaggerated sexual characters. So many lizards, so little time…

Evolution on repeat                                                                       Oct 10thpale_line

The Tage Erlander Symposium Evolution on Repeat took place on Thursday, Oct 10th. We are very grateful to all the invited speakers and participants for making it such an enjoyable event! We are also grateful to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for the Tage Erlander Prize that made the whole event possible.

Javier Abalos joins us until Christmas!                                            Oct 1stpale_line

Javier is visiting from Valencia where he is doing a PhD under the supervision of Enrique Font, Pau Carazo and Guillem Perez I de Lanuza. In addition to generating and analysing paternity for hundreds of wall lizard babies, he aims to finish a paper or two and spend many hours watching seals. Welcome Javier!

Developmental plasticity and evolutionary explanations                 Oct 1stpale_line

Our new paper in Evolution & Development tries to explain why the role of plasticity in evolution is contentious – can plasticity really explain why adaptive evolution happens or is it an unnecessary add-on to genes and natural selection? To understand why people come to different conclusions, we took a closer look at how biologists make use of idealizations to deliver evolutionary explanations. We also reflect on what makes some explanations better than others. We think the analysis is quite helpful, hopefully others will agree – click here to read the paper.

Miguel Brun-Usan joins the group!                                                Sept 2ndpale_line

We are very happy that Miguel joins us in Lund after finishing his postdoc in Richard Watson’s group at Southampton. Miguel will extend our previous collaborative work on evolvability and also embark on a new project that brings mechanistic models to an empirical project headed by Nathalie Feiner. Welcome Miguel!

Happy World Lizard Day                                                                Aug 14thpale_line

Happy World Lizard Day everyone! Uller group celebrated with Swedish fika and some lizard cake. And of course with a lot of talk about lizards!

Transposable elements unleashed                                                Aug 13thpale_line

Transposable elements are DNA sequences that move around in the genome. Do they also play any roles in evolution and development? Nathalie answered this question by looking at our favourite group of animals – lizards – and found some surprising answers. Her most recent paper in Evolution Letters is the last of a trilogy of papers – here, here, and here – that reveal that Anolis lizards, by breaking the rules, allow us to link TEs to speciation and evolvability. Read more…

Hot off the press!                                                                           Aug 12thpale_line

Our book Evolutionary Causation has arrived! It not only looks great, but it also features some really original and exciting ideas by fantastic people. Thanks to all the authors and to the KLI and the MIT Press for making it happen. Interested in the content? Read more…

Keeping track of what is new                                                       July 22ndpale_line

A great way to keep track of interesting research on development and evolution, inclusive inheritance, and much more is to follow our international research program on social media. Lynn Chiu is the new media and communication officer and she will tweet, blog and more to promote exciting research in evolutionary biology and philosophy of biology.

Plasticity can take the lead in adaptive evolution                        July 20thpale_line

Plasticity-led evolution would be likely if the trait combinations induced by novel environments harbour more than their fair share of genetic variation. Our new paper in PNAS shows that this is in fact quite common. For a nice overview, see this post by Luis-Miguel Chevin on F1000. Dan Noble and Reinder Radersma collected data from studies that quantified traits and their additive genetic covariance in animals and plants exposed to novel environments. On the whole, the multivariate phenotypic change caused by environmental change were well aligned with the maximum genetic variation – and better than expected by chance. Read more…

Introducing maternal effects                                                           July 1stpale_line

Feel confused about maternal effects? Don’t worry, you are not alone. This new annotated bibliography from Oxford University Press by Tobias will help navigate the literature. Its entries provide starting points for exploring the role of maternal effects in evolutionary biology – from partitioning of phenotypic variance to the evolution of inheritance. We hope you will find it useful.

It is time to say goodbye…                                                              June 7thpale_line

… to Reinder and Alfredo. As the EES grant comes to a close, we are sad to see some of our friends move on, but excited about the opportunities they have created for themselves. Reinder is now a researcher in statistical genetics at Wageningen University & Research Institute, which is THE place to be for agriculture, environmental and food science. His work on maternal effects, plasticity and evolvability will undoubtedly prove useful also to domesticated plants and animals. Read more…

Summer cottage getaway                                                              June 3rdpale_line

All visitors to Sweden should experience that summer cottage feeling! Accordingly, the group packed their thermal underwear, swim trunks, shorts and rain coats and headed to Tobias’ family’s cottage in Värmland. All outfits came to good use since we had typical Swedish summer weather – blue sky followed by rain, and then glorious weather when we had to leave. Just like every year. Read more…

Geoff While visiting                                                                        April 7thpale_line

We are very happy to have Geoff While from the University of Tasmania visiting us for three months. Geoff is a fantastic friend and collaborator whose scientific drive, passion for biology, and lizard catching skills are nearly impossible to beat. In addition to the usual wall lizard field season, we have a few old projects to finish off, some that are in full swing, and perhaps one or two new ones to launch. Not to mention all the other things you could get done over a beer or two. Welcome Geoff!

Ullergroup at Evolution Evolving                                                  April 6thpale_line

The Evolution Evolving at Cambridge was packed with three days of exciting talks – from culture in whales to control theory and the philosophy of explanation. The crew from Lund felt like lizards in the sun – pretty comfy and happy! So much in fact that Alfredo won the prize for best talk, and Illiam the prize for best poster. Congratulations to both! We are very grateful to our fellow organisers and all the participants for making this such a great event. A full conference report will be posted in due time at the EES webpage, together with recordings of plenaries and key notes. They were brilliant! Until then, you can see what you missed at #evoevolving and #EES_Update.

How adaptive plasticity evolves when selected against            March 12thpale_line

Yes, that is the surprise title of Alfredo’s new paper in PLoS Computation Biology! When we discover examples of adaptive plasticity we usually think that it evolved because selection favoured it. But can adaptive plasticity evolve when selection favours non-plastic individuals? Think of a population of insects that hatches, reproduces and dies twice every year: once in spring and once in autumn. Spring and autumn conditions may be very different, but plasticity could allow the insects to cope with both seasons. Yet, insects born in spring never experience autumn, and vice versa, so natural selection cannot directly favour plasticity. In fact, plastic individuals may do worse than individuals that are not plastic, which means plasticity could consistently be selected against. This problem is similar to tuning the learning rate in Machine Learning. Read more…

Solved: the genetics of colour polymorphism in wall lizards      March 1stpale_line

A new paper in PNAS reveals that the orange and yellow ventral colour morphs in wall lizards is caused by regulatory changes in pterin and carotenoid genes. Interestingly, it seems like the alleles are old and occasionally shared between species. Miguel Carneiro and his team at CIBIO and Leif Andersson at Uppsala led the work, and we helped with the genome, samples, and other bits and pieces. The chromosome-scale genome assembly is of high quality and should become a useful resource – so just get in touch if you want to know if the wallies are right for you too!

Kirsty MacLeod joins us!                                                     Jan 17thpale_line

Kirsty joins us on a Marie Curie Fellowship, with the aim to understand how the social environment mediates the effects of prenatal stress. The work will be done in our favourite social lizards – the Egernia. It will help us understand if and how parental care can eliminate negative effects of prenatal stress. Kirsty’s research will also allow us to test if maternal effects contribute to the stability of social systems in these lizards. Her project is a collaboration with Tony Williams at Simon Fraser University, and Geoff While at the University of Tasmania. Welcome Kirsty!

Origin of the Welsh wall lizards now settled                        Jan 4thpale_line

The sole Welsh population of common wall lizards is located on the Gower peninsula. Its origin has been unknown, but we have now established that they come from the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy. This is also the origin of some of the English populations, but the Welsh population is most likely a primary introduction. That lizards of Italian origin have established a breeding population in Wales demonstrates the adaptability of these little guys. You can read the report in the Herpetological Bulletin.

A new take on the epigenetic signatures of prenatal stress          Dec 12thpale_line

The conditions encountered in the womb can have life-long impact on health. It is usually assumed that this is because embryos respond to adverse conditions by programming their gene expression. In collaboration with Bas Heijmans and others, we propose that these effects also can be caused by selection on stochastic epigenetic variation. The paper is published in Cell Reports and there is also a press release. The concept of fetal programming is based on the idea that embryos modify their physiology in response to the uterine environment. Read more…

Developmental Bias and Evolution at Santa Fe                Nov 20thpale_line

The third and final workshop funded by our EES grant took on the role of developmental bias in evolution. Like the meeting in February, Santa Fe greeted us with snow, jetlag, and huevos rancheros for breakfast. The workshop showcased the extraordinary breadth of approaches used to understand if, and how, developmental processes direct evolution. Ecologists, developmental biologists, and palaeontologists explained what data are out there and what they mean. Theoretical biologists and computer scientists convincingly showed that the role of development not only can be formulated in precise terms, but that there are predictions ready to be tested. Read more…

Another bad day for anticipatory maternal effects            Nov 20thpale_line

A new study on water fleas, headed by Reinder and Alex, suggests that a classic example of adaptive maternal effects is not as adaptive as we might have thought. Some years ago, Tobias, Sinead and Shinichi did a meta-analysis that seemed to undermine the idea that maternal effects are designed to transfer information about the local environment. Reviewers and editors did not really want to hear that, and the paper proved somewhat difficult to publish (but has been well received and cited). But one ‘anticipatory maternal effects’ appeared well supported: water fleas exposed to toxic cyanobacteria produced offspring that were more tolerant to the toxin. Read more…

Sexual selection moves genes from one lineage to another      Sept 20thpale_line

We have previously shown that male-male competition causes introgression of a suite of sexually selected characters between two lineages of common wall lizards. A new study headed by Yang – published in Molecular Ecology – reveals that about 3% of the genome has moved in the same direction. Interesting, Yang’s analysis shows that this asymmetric gene flow is more recent than the secondary contact itself. What appears to have happened is that the sexually selected characters originated within the Italian lineage quite recently. They then spread northwards, eventually reaching the Ligurian coast and the contact zone with the lizards from western Europe, where they continued to give males a competitive advantage. The next steps are to figure out how this suite of characters arose in the first place, how the characters are kept together as they introgress, and what – if anything – that limits their spread across the landscape.

Workshop on the origins of individuality                           Sept 8thpale_line

The evolutionary process is itself evolving. Perhaps the best example is the origin of new reproductive organizations that are capable of evolving by natural selection. Single celled organisms evolved into multicellular organisms, some of which – leaf cutter ants, for example – appear to have evolved into collectives that deserve the label superorganism.

Last week our group hosted a small workshop to bring together researchers that use different approaches to tackle how and why such transitions in individuality happens. The aim was to share insights from projects within our Templeton-funded grant, and to spread ideas to local Lund researchers. Read more…

Roman Zug joins us!                                                          Sept 7thpale_line

Roman is a theoretical biologist with a PhD from the Humboldt University in Berlin. His PhD research, supervised by Peter Hammerstein, focused on the evolutionary dynamics of symbionts. Now on a DFG fellowship, Roman will explore the evolution of developmental systems that produce discrete phenotypes in different environments – also known as polyphenisms. Welcome to Lund Roman!

Review of Extended Heredity                                            Sept 5thpale_line

Russell Bonduriansky’s and Troy Day’s recent book Extended Heredity explores how changing heredity concepts influence how evolutionary biologists think about evolution, and how we may go about generating and testing predictions. The book has been very well received – including our review in Evolution and another in Science. Russell and Troy discuss some of the more contentious parts in this blog post.

Developmental Bias and Evolution                                 June 30thpale_line

A recurrent theme in evolutionary biology is to contrast natural selection and developmental constraint – two forces pitted against each other as competing explanations for organismal form. A recent Perspective in the journal Genetics explains why this juxtaposition is deeply misleading. There is also a blog about the paper here. Read more…

Amanda Pettersen joins the group!                                 June 24thpale_line

Amanda joins us from Monash University, where she recently completed her PhD under the supervision of Dustin Marshall. Amanda’s PhD thesis explored how metabolic theory can inform microevolutionary patterns of life history variation. Abandoning her marine invertebrates for wall lizards – but keeping her interest in thermal biology – Amanda will now take on the challenge to understand how lizard embryos adapt to the cold. Welcome Amanda!

New papers on thermal biology of reptile embryos         May 28thpale_line

Most reptiles lay eggs in sand or soil, under logs or in rock crevices. These are places where the temperature often fluctuates, sometimes becoming dangerously high or low. The pervasive effects of temperature on biological systems begs the question how embryos respond in the short term, and how populations adapt in the long term. This question is now thoroughly explored in a theme issue of the Journal of Experimental Zoology, with contributions from our group. Read more…

Anolis symposium in Miami                                              April 4thpale_line

The organizers had chosen an appropriate setting for the 2018 Anolis symposium – sunny Miami, Florida, at the Fairchild Botanical Garden that ‘hosts’ six Anolis species. Since Nathalie was working at the museum collection of the University of Florida, she took the opportunity to join for two days of Anolis fun. The meeting was the fifth of its kind, with the first taking place already in 1972. That is an average of one meeting every 9th year! Not very frequent, but it means the symposium already is a classic event. The program was full, but the organizers had scheduled long coffee and lunch breaks to make sure there was enough time to explore the Botanical Garden, in particular to meet our scaly friends, of course. Read more about the sunny trip…

    New papers

  • Evolution of the locomotor skeleton in Anolis lizards reflects the interplay between ecological opportunity and phylogenetic inertia. Nat Commun, 12:1525
  • Plasticity and evolutionary convergence in the locomotor skeleton of Greater Antillean Anolis lizards. eLife, 9:e57468
  • Spatial variation in gene flow across a hybrid zone reveals causes of reproductive isolation and asymmetric introgression in wall lizards. Evolution, 74:1289-1300
  • Vertical transmission of a nematode from female lizards to the brains of their offspring. Am Nat, 195:918-926
  • Enhanced locomotor performance on familiar surfaces is uncoupled from morphological plasticity in Anolis lizards. J Exp Zool Part A, 2020:1-11
  • Evolutionary lability in Hox cluster structure and gene expression in Anolis lizards. Evol Lett, 3:474-484
  • Lizards possess the most complete tetrapod Hox gene repertoire despite pervasive structural changes in Hox clusters. Evol Dev, 21:218-228
  • Asymmetric paralog evolution between the “cryptic” gene Bmp16 and its well-studied sister genes Bmp2 and Bmp4Sci Rep, 9:3136
  • Plastic responses to novel environments are biased towards phenotype dimensions with high additive genetic variation. PNAS, 116:13452-13461
  • Regulatory changes in pterin and carotenoid genes underlie balanced color polymorphisms in the wall lizard. PNAS, 116:5633-5642
  • Linking life‐history theory and metabolic theory explains the offspring size‐temperature relationship. Ecol Lett, 22:518-526
  • Selective survival of embryos can explain DNA methylation signatures of adverse prenatal environments. Cell Rep, 25:2660-2667
  • Timing of maternal exposure to toxic cyanobacteria and offspring fitness in Daphnia magna: Implications for the evolution of anticipatory maternal effects. Ecol Evol, 8:12727-12736
  • Genomic evidence for asymmetric introgression by sexual selection in the common wall lizard. Mol Ecol, 27:4213-4224
  • A comprehensive database of thermal developmental plasticity in reptiles. Sci Data, 5:180138