EVO-WIBO 2010 highlights

Posted by Victor Hanson-Smith.

Several authors on this blog (including myself) just returned from Evo-Wibo 2010, a gathering of evolutionary biologists from the pacific northwest.  The talks were high-quality and covered a broad range of topics, from the macro (population and ecology interactions) to the micro (protein evolution).  I won’t summarize all twenty-seven talks, but allow me to highlight a few favorites:

Michael Doebli gave a talk titled “Complexity and Diversity,” which basically summarized his recent Science paper.  Michael’s main point is:

. . . if the ecological properties of an organism are determined by multiple traits with complex interactions, the conditions needed for frequency-dependent selection to generate diversity are relaxed to the point where they are easily satisfied in high-dimensional phenotype spaces.

Michael’s result is exciting because it sheds light on the origin of diversity.  Furthermore, the result seems obvious and leads me to wonder “why didn’t I think of that?”

Members of Bill Cresko’s lab (including Julian Catchen, Paul Hohenlohe, and Susan Bassham) gave a series of talks showcasing RAD tag sequencing [See here and here].  As a phylogeneticist, I am particularly interested in the potential to use RAD tags to identify sites that polymorphic within a population; these sites can be culled from phylogenetic analysis, thus removing a significant amount of “noise” when inferring inter-species phylogenies.

My final highlight is David Pollock‘s talk titled “Adaptation, Convergence, and Context-Dependent Evolution.”  David investigated why a very long phylogenetic branch leads to the snake clade.  One explanation is found in the large number of mitochondrial mutations allowing snakes to rapidly alter their metabolism in order to digest large meals.  I think David’s talk was interesting because it was the first (and only?) at this meeting to connect specific protein-level mutations to organism-level phenotypic changes.

Did you attend EVO-WIBO?  If so, I encourage your comments down below.  What presentations did you think were noteworthy?

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