Saturday, June 25, 2011

My top 5 favorite talks at the Evolution 2011 meeting

A good meeting is one in which there are many talks stimulating your interests or offering you satisfying answers to important questions. Here are my top 5 favorite talks at the Evolution 2011 meeting that has just taken place at Norman, Oklahoma. They were picked solely based on the criteria outlined above, and of course among the talks I had listened to, which were quite a lot actually. In the order of the time they were given (with the names of the presenters in bold), they are:

1.     Ken Miller (Brown University)

So Simple a Beginning - Why Evolution Matters in America Today

Ken Miller was the Stephen J. Gould Award winner this year. I had read his book “Only a theory”, which is highly valuable in dissembling intelligent design arguments from a molecular biological perspective. He was an excellent speaker. Most importantly, he pointed out that evolution should be studied by including the other fields of biology, which I totally agree.

2.     Sreepriya Pramod & Mark Welch (Mississippi State University)

Microsatellites from the untranslated regions (UTRs) of the Helianthus annuus transcriptome play a role in modulating phenotypes?

The talk presented the different patterns of distribution of microsatellites in 5’-UTR, 3’-UTR, and gene coding region and suggested microsatellites in UTRs play a functional role. The function of repeat sequences in the promoter region in gene regulation has been found in other plants, particularly Arabidopsis thaliana.

3.     Xianfa Xie, Weigang Qiu, Peter Lipke (City University of New York)

The origin of sex and the origin of species: From yeasts to humans

The paper presented in this talk is of both methodological and conceptual interests to a broad range of evolutionary biologists. Methodologically, it presented the long-needed revisions to the commonly used McDonald-Kreitman test to detect adaptive evolution, two new statistics to measure neutrality, a nuanced interpretation of MK test and PAML results, and a simple method to characterize species association and biochemical significance of amino acid substitutions. Conceptually, it linked together sexual reproduction from yeasts to humans and proposed the rapid evolution of sexual adhesins and sex-related genes could promote speciation and sexual selection (leading to phenomena like sperm competition).

4.     Rebecca Young & Gunter Wagner (Yale University)

A cis-regulatory mechanism of evolutionary homeosis: the developmental genetics of avian wing digit identity

The talk first presented evidences that quantitative change in HoxD gene expression causes a shift in digit development in birds, and then the discovery of a wing-specific derived cis-regulatory element. These combined together offer new insights into the mechanism for the evolution of new developmental phenotypes.

5.     Chad Watkins & Andre Pires da Silva (University of Texas at Arlington)

The influence of transposable elements within the Anolis carolinensis Hox cluster.

This fantastic talk combined genomic evolution and development together. It first showed the Anolis lizards are much richer in transposable elements in their Hox gene cluster, then showed that Hox gene expression is delayed in Anoles. It also showed Hox gene expression shift between different species. And I bet the gene expression shift is caused by the insertion of transposable elements, at least to some degree.