What is evolvability and how does it matter?

Each academic workshop will be preceded by a public lecture from one of the four biological experts speaking on the theme of the workshop from the vantage point of their own research program. This will be held on the campus of the University of Minnesota, co-sponsored with the College of Biological Sciences. The intended audience is the general scientific community at the University of Minnesota and the invited biological expert will spend time interacting with faculty, post-docs, and graduate students interested in the relevant domain of biological phenomena: development, evolutionary novelty, and evolvability.

photo of David Houle

What is evolvability and how does it matter?

David Houle, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida State University

Evolvability is a popular term in biology, but means very different things to different people.  For some, it refers to the ability to predict the short-term ability to respond to selection.  To others it is the ability to produce genetic variation that allows longer-term evolution.  Finally, some treat it as those properties of genetic systems that allow the large evolutionary changes known as macroevolution.  I will discuss two big questions at each of these levels.  First, how should we go about measuring each of these types of evolvability?  Second, is natural selection responsible for the existence or degree of evolvability? Or is evolvability an accidental or unavoidable property of biological systems shaped only indirectly by natural selection?   My own work on fly wings suggests a surprising correspondence between evolvability at different time scales, and that evolvability may be an evolved property, and not just an entertaining accident.

lecture video

Wednesday, April 26th 2017

Conservation and innovation in flowering plant morphologies

Each academic workshop will be preceded by a public lecture from one of the four biological experts speaking on the theme of the workshop from the vantage point of their own research program. This will be held on the campus of the University of Minnesota, co-sponsored with the College of Biological Sciences. The intended audience is the general scientific community at the University of Minnesota and the invited biological expert will spend time interacting with faculty, post-docs, and graduate students interested in the relevant domain of biological phenomena: development, evolutionary novelty, and evolvability.

photo of Vivian Irish

Conservation and innovation in flowering plant morphologies

 

Vivian Irish, Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, and of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University

In 1859, Darwin famously wrote “It is generally acknowledged that all organic beings have been formed on two great laws—Unity of Type, and Conditions of Existence.” In this, he emphasized the similarities in body plans that reflect common descent, while at the same time, pointing out that new morphologies could evolve as an adaptation to particular environmental conditions. Flower structure reflects both this unity of type and diversity of form. We will discuss some of the recent progress in characterizing the molecular mechanisms that maintain a consistent floral architecture, as well as those that contribute to the astonishing diversity of flowering plant morphologies.

lecture video

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

Two for the price of one: twinning – the ultimate regeneration

Each academic workshop will be preceded by a public lecture from one of the four biological experts speaking on the theme of the workshop from the vantage point of their own research program. This will be held on the campus of the University of Minnesota, co-sponsored with the College of Biological Sciences. The intended audience is the general scientific community at the University of Minnesota and the invited biological expert will spend time interacting with faculty, post-docs, and graduate students interested in the relevant domain of biological phenomena: development, evolutionary novelty, and evolvability.

Photo of Claudio Stern

Two for the price of one: twinning – the ultimate regeneration

Claudio Stern, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University College London

Gastrulation has been called the most important time in your life because it is when the embryo sets up its three main layers of cells, starts to specify its primary body axis, and many cells first become committed to their fates. Remarkably, until the start of gastrulation, bird and mammalian (including human) embryos can still give rise to multiple individuals (twins). This reveals not only a "pluripotency" of fates, but also the striking potential of the embryo to self-organize into a complete organism. Twinning can be viewed as an extreme case of regeneration: parts of the embryo can regenerate the entire body and form another individual. But this raises a new question: what mechanisms prevent this from occurring more regularly during normal development? We will review some recent progress in understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms that coordinate fate, polarity, cell movements, and pattern in the embryo that also regulate twinning.

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

Evolvability

  • Although the capacity to generate selectable phenotypic variation has been treated largely from the perspectives of evolutionary genetics and molecular biology, a growing literature has emerged surrounding generic accounts of evolvability that appeal to abstract network properties, such as robustness, sparseness, and criticality. What empirical, theoretical, and conceptual barriers exist to integrating genetic and generic explanations of evolvability? What conflicting assumptions exist among different explanatory models?

Evolutionary Novelty

Explaining novelty involves understanding how developmental systems are transformed in order to generate new ranges of variation through evolutionary time. Some have advanced an argument for the physico-genetic origination of novelties, which contrasts with standard explanations that appeal to the origination of new patterns of gene expression. What empirical, theoretical, and conceptual barriers exist to integrating genetic and generic explanations of evolutionary novelty? What conflicting assumptions exist among different explanatory models?

Development

There is no controversy about whether genetic and generic approaches are required to explain ontogeny. However, even in cases where the need for an integration of developmental genetic and physical mechanisms is fully acknowledged, the actual combining or integration is often absent. What empirical, theoretical, and conceptual barriers exist to integrating genetic and generic explanations of development?

Public Lectures

Each academic workshop was preceded by a public lecture from one of the four biological experts speaking on the theme of the workshop from the vantage point of their own research program. They were held on the campus of the University of Minnesota, co-sponsored with the College of Biological Sciences. The intended audience is the general scientific community at the University of Minnesota and the invited biological expert will spend time interacting with faculty, post-docs, and graduate students interested in the relevant domain of biological phenomena: development, evolutionary novelty, and evolvability.

Two for the price of one: twinning – the ultimate regeneration

portrait of Claudio Stern

Claudio Stern, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University College London

Gastrulation has been called the most important time in your life because it is when the embryo sets up its three main layers of cells, starts to specify its primary body axis, and many cells first become committed to their fates. Remarkably, until the start of gastrulation, bird and mammalian (including human) embryos can still give rise to multiple individuals (twins). This reveals not only a "pluripotency" of fates, but also the striking potential of the embryo to self-organize into a complete organism. Twinning can be viewed as an extreme case of regeneration: parts of the embryo can regenerate the entire body and form another individual. But this raises a new question: what mechanisms prevent this from occurring more regularly during normal development? We will review some recent progress in understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms that coordinate fate, polarity, cell movements, and pattern in the embryo that also regulate twinning.

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015


 

Conservation and innovation in flowering plant morphologies

portrait of Vivian Irish

Vivian Irish, Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, and of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University

In 1859, Darwin famously wrote “It is generally acknowledged that all organic beings have been formed on two great laws—Unity of Type, and Conditions of Existence.” In this, he emphasized the similarities in body plans that reflect common descent, while at the same time, pointing out that new morphologies could evolve as an adaptation to particular environmental conditions. Flower structure reflects both this unity of type and diversity of form. We will discuss some of the recent progress in characterizing the molecular mechanisms that maintain a consistent floral architecture, as well as those that contribute to the astonishing diversity of flowering plant morphologies.

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016


 

What is evolvability and how does it matter?

portrait of David Houle

David Houle, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida State University

Evolvability is a popular term in biology, but means very different things to different people.  For some, it refers to the ability to predict the short-term ability to respond to selection.  To others it is the ability to produce genetic variation that allows longer-term evolution.  Finally, some treat it as those properties of genetic systems that allow the large evolutionary changes known as macroevolution.  I will discuss two big questions at each of these levels.  First, how should we go about measuring each of these types of evolvability?  Second, is natural selection responsible for the existence or degree of evolvability? Or is evolvability an accidental or unavoidable property of biological systems shaped only indirectly by natural selection?   My own work on fly wings suggests a surprising correspondence between evolvability at different time scales, and that evolvability may be an evolved property, and not just an entertaining accident.

Wednesday, April 26th 2017

lecture video