Why Evolutionary Biology and Genome Sciences Need Each Other
The Joint Genome Institute (JGI) is one of the world’s largest producers of DNA sequence, currently generating over 3,000,000,000 nucleotides per month. It was originally constructed as part of the effort to sequence the human genome, but now this capacity is being directed toward understanding the “blueprints” for many other organisms, including animals, plants, fungi, protists, bacteria, and archaea. Consequently, the community of evolutionary biologists has much to gain and to offer, for written in these volumes of the “Genetic Book of the Dead”, in a language we do not completely yet understand, is the history of the evolutionary changes that have shaped the diversity of life. We have the chance as never before to understand the grand sweep of organic evolution, from bats to bacteria, from worms to wolves, from frogs to fruit flies. As never before, it is becoming possible to evaluate the role of genomic factors (for example, gene movements, duplications, and losses) in shaping organismal change, to reconstruct patterns of gene family evolution, to correlate novel genomic features of particular groups of organisms with their novel physical, physiological, or behavioral traits to infer the responsible genes, and to determine which genes have undergone natural selection, gene conversion, or horizontal transfer between species. The Evolutionary Genomics program at JGI draws together researchers of diverse specialties, including evolutionary and organismal biology, biogeography, paleontology, systematics, database construction, software development, phylogenetic analysis, genomics, and computational biology, working to bring the biological “outdoors” to meet the new genome technology. I will describe in general terms this burgeoning field and highlight several recent projects we’ve done at the interface of genome sciences and evolutionary biology.
Jeffrey Boore is the head of the Evolutionary Genomics Program at DOE JGI and an adjunct professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at UC-Berkeley. He has played a leadership role in the transition of JGI from a human genome sequencing center to a comparative genomics center. He has developed software tools for inferring gene function, interpreting patterns of genome evolution, and analyzing and annotating organelle genomes. He has made significant contributions to understanding genome evolution and reconstructing deep evolutionary relationships among major groups of animals, plants, and protists.
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