The Earliest Life on Earth
Roger Buick, Ph.D., professor of Earth and space sciences and astrobiology, University of Washington.
Roger Buick is interested in the origin and earliest evolution of life on Earth and how that can be used as an analogue for life elsewhere in the universe. His research techniques lie at the intersection of geology, biology and chemistry. Dr. Buick received his Ph.D. in geology and geophysics from the University of Western Australia in 1986. Following his postdoc in the department of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University, he worked as an exploration geologist for major mining corporations. In 1994 he became a research fellow at the University of Western Australia and in 1995, a lecturer in the University of Sydney’s School of Geosciences. He joined the University of Washington as associate professor in 2001, becoming professor in 2005. Dr. Buick is the recipient of a Science Editor’s Choice selection, among other honors.
The Tree of Life and Major Transitions in Cell Evolution
Thomas Cavalier-Smith, Ph.D., professor of evolutionary biology, department of zoology, University of Oxford.
Thomas Cavalier-Smith’s research focuses on the evolution, ecology and biogeography of amoeboid and flagellate free-living Protozoa using cell culturing, DNA sequencing, phylogenetic analysis, bioinformatics and light and electron microscopy. His theoretical interests range from the origin of cells and their diversification to make the major bacterial and eukaryotic groups, to protein-targeting mechanisms in secondary symbiogenesis. Dr. Cavalier-Smith received his Ph.D. in biophysics from King’s College, London in 1967. He was a guest investigator at Rockefeller University from 1967 to 1969, before returning to teach in the biophysics department of King’s College. In 1989 he moved to the University of British Columbia, as professor of botany. He joined the University of Oxford in 1999. Dr. Cavalier-Smith is a fellow of the Royal Society and the recipient of a Linnean Society Medal for Zoology and an International Prize for Biology from the emperor of Japan.
Evolution of Human Populations
L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza, M.D., professor emeritus, department of genetics, Stanford University School of Medicine.
The Cavalli-Sforza lab uses genetic markers to study the origin of modern humans and their evolutionary history. He employs tools of demography, archeology, linguistics and anthropology to the study of genetic and cultural evolution. Dr. Cavalli-Sforza received his M.D. from the University of Pavia in 1944. He conducted research at the Sieroterapico Institute in Milan and at the University of Cambridge before becoming a lecturer in genetics and statistics at the Universities of Parma and Pavia in 1951. In 1962 he became professor of genetics and director of the Institute of Genetics at the University of Pavia and also took over directorship of the Italian National Research Council’s Institute of Evolutionary Genetics and Biochemistry. He joined the Stanford University genetics department in 1971 and served as its chairman from 1986 to 1990. Dr. Cavalli-Sforza is the recipient of a Kistler Prize from the Foundation for the Future and a Balzan Prize, among other honors.
Feeding and Gloating for More: The Challenge of the New Creationism
Jerry A. Coyne, Ph.D., professor, department of ecology and evolution, The University of Chicago.
Jerry Coyne works on diverse areas of evolutionary genetics. The main focus of his laboratory is the original problem raised by Charles Darwin — the origin of species — and on understanding this process through the genetic patterns it produces. He is also interested in speciation, adaptation, population and evolutionary genetics, ecological and quantitative genetics, chromosome evolution and sperm competition. Dr. Coyne received his Ph.D. in biology from Harvard University in 1978. He completed his postdoc in the genetics department of the University of California, Davis. He was a member of the zoology faculty of the University of Maryland, College Park from 1982 to 1986, when he joined The University of Chicago as associate professor, becoming professor in 1991. Dr. Coyne is the recipient of an Award of Excellence and Meritorious Service from the Illinois Public Defender Association and a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, among other honors.
Can the Distribution of Protein Domains Shed Light on the Tree of Life?
Russell F. Doolittle, Ph.D., research professor, department of chemistry and biochemistry and department of biology, University of California, San Diego.
Russell Doolittle’s research interests center around protein structure and evolution, particularly blood clotting proteins. In an effort to reconstruct evolutionary histories of proteins, he has drawn on computational techniques to compare published sequence data, and hopes to answer questions such as: When did prokaryotic organisms diverge from eukaryotes? How many rudimentary families of proteins are there? And how are “new” proteins invented? Dr. Doolittle received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Harvard University in 1961. Following his postdoc at the Karolinska Institute, he joined the University of California, San Diego as assistant research biologist in 1964, becoming assistant professor of chemistry in 1965, associate professor in 1967 and professor in 1972. Dr. Doolittle is the recipient of a John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science from the National Academy of Sciences, a Stein and Moore Award from the Protein Society, a Paul Ehrlich Prize and a National Institutes of Health Merit Award, among other honors.
Barking up the Wrong Tree: The Dangers of Reification in Molecular Phylogenetics and Systematics
W. Ford Doolittle, Ph.D., professor, department of biochemistry and molecular biology, and Canada Research Chair in Comparative Microbial Genomics, Dalhousie University; director, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Program in Evolutionary Biology.
W. Ford Doolittle’s work has contributed to proof of the endosymbiont hypothesis, development of archaeal genetics, many aspects of prokaryote and eukaryote phylogeny and the introns-early and selfish DNA theories. His lab employs culture-dependent and culture-independent methods to study recombination and lateral gene transfer in natural populations of hyperthermophilic bacteria and halophilic archaea. Dr. Doolittle received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1969. He joined Dalhousie University as assistant professor in 1971, becoming associate professor in 1976 and professor in 1982. He has been a director at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research since 1986. Dr. Doolittle is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of Canada and the recipient of a Roche Diagnostics Prize for Biomolecular and Cellular Research, a Henry Friesen Award from the Canadian Society for Clinical Investigation and an Award of Excellence from the Genetics Society of Canada, among other honors.
Genes and Development: A Comparison of Human and Amphioxus Genomes
Peter W.H. Holland, Ph.D., Linacre Professor and associate head, department of zoology, and fellow of Merton College, University of Oxford.
Peter Holland’s research interests include genome evolution and gene family evolution, in particular homeobox gene clusters; the relationship between molecular evolution and the evolution of developmental mechanisms; the molecular phylogeny of animals; and the origin of chordates and vertebrates. Dr. Holland received his Ph.D. in genetics from the MRC National Institute for Medical Research. He served as a demonstrator and research fellow at the University of Oxford from 1987 to 1994, when he joined the zoology faculty of the University of Reading. He became head of the Reading zoology division in 1997. In 2002, he returned to Oxford as Linacre Professor. Dr. Holland is a member of the European Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the Royal Society. He is the recipient of an Alexander Kowalevsky Medal, a Blaise Pascal Medal in Natural Sciences and a Genetics Society Medal, among other honors.
The RNA World and the Molecular Origins of Life
Gerald F. Joyce, M.D., Ph.D., professor, departments of chemistry and molecular biology, and dean of the faculty, The Scripps Research Institute.
Gerald Joyce’s research involves the test-tube evolution of nucleic acids and the application of these methods to the development of novel RNA and DNA enzymes. He also has a longstanding interest in the origins of life and the role of RNA in the early history of life on Earth. Dr. Joyce received his M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego in 1984. He carried out postgraduate medical training at Mercy Hospital in San Diego and postdoctoral research training at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies before joining the faculty of The Scripps Research Institute in 1989. Dr. Joyce is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He is the recipient of an NAS Award in Molecular Biology, a Pfizer Award in Enzyme Chemistry from the American Chemical Society and an H.C. Urey Award from the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life, among other honors.
Proterozoic Life and Environments
Andrew H. Knoll, Ph.D., Fisher Professor of Natural History and professor of Earth and planetary sciences, Harvard University.
Andrew Knoll studies the relationship between the evolution of the Earth’s surface environments and the evolution of life on Earth, with particular focus on Archean and Proterozoic paleontology and biogeochemistry. The Knoll lab investigates evolutionary issues including the diversification of prokaryotic metabolisms on the Precambrian Earth, the initial radiation of eukaryotic life and the rise of large complex algae and animals near the end of the Proterozoic Eon. Dr. Knoll received his Ph.D. in geology from Harvard University in 1977. He taught at Oberlin College for five years before joining the Harvard faculty, where he currently serves as Fisher Professor and as curator of the paleobotanical collections of the Botanical Museum. Dr. Knoll is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and the Charles Doolittle Walcott Medal of the NAS, among other honors.
The Origin of Eukaryotes.
Eugene V. Koonin, Ph.D., senior investigator, National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
The Koonin lab applies computational biology to the study of evolutionary systems biology and empirical comparative and evolutionary genomics. Dr. Koonin is particularly interested in horizontal gene transfer between diverse organisms as well as in the classification and evolutionary analysis of protein domains and domain architectures. Dr. Koonin received his Ph.D. from Moscow State University in 1983. He then joined the USSR Academy of Sciences, where from 1990 to 1991 he was head of the Institute of Microbiology’s Laboratory of Gene Systematics and Bacterial Evolution. He began work at the National Center for Biotechnology Information as a visiting scientist in 1991 and became senior investigator in 1996. Dr. Koonin is a fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics and the recipient of a National Library of Medicine Board of Regents’ Award, among other honors.
Probing Human Brain Evolution at the Genetic Level
Bruce T. Lahn, Ph.D., professor of human genetics, The University of Chicago; investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Bruce Lahn studies the genetic basis of human brain evolution using a variety of approaches, ranging from genomics, bioinformatics and population genetics to biochemistry, cell biology and animal models. Another major focus of his research is stem cell biology, specifically with regard to therapeutic applications, the functions of adult stem cells and what gives stem cells their “stemness.” Dr. Lahn received his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1998 and joined The University of Chicago in 1999. He is also cofounder and scientific director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Tissue Engineering at Sun Yat-sen University in China. He is the recipient of a Merrill Lynch Forum Global Innovation Award, a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award and a Searle Scholarship, among other honors.
A Neanderthal Perspective on Human Origins
Svante Pääbo, Ph.D., director, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology; honorary professor of genetics and evolutionary biology, University of Leipzig; guest professor of comparative genomics, University of Uppsala.
Svante Pääbo studies the genetic underpinnings of human evolution. He was instrumental in determining DNA sequences for extinct creatures including mammoths, ground sloths and Neanderthals, and directs efforts to sequence the entire Neanderthal genome. He also studies the comparative genomics of humans and apes with regard to the evolution of traits such as language. Dr. Pääbo received his Ph.D. from the University of Uppsala in 1986. From 1990 to 1998 he was full professor of general biology at the University of Munich. In 1997, he became director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Dr. Pääbo is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and a foreign member of the American National Academy of Sciences. He is the recipient of a Max Delbrück Medal and a Louis Jeantet Prize for Medicine, and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2007, among other honors.
Fairfield Osborn Memorial Lecture
Demonstrating the Sufficiency of Microevolutionary Processes
David Penny, Ph.D., professor of theoretical biology, Institute of Molecular BioScience, Massey University; research director, Allan Wilson Center for Molecular Ecology and Evolution.
David Penny uses DNA sequence data to test whether the processes of microevolution are sufficient for macroevolution. Individual tests that can be developed for this hypothesis range from aspects of the origin of life, of eukaryotes, plants, mammals and birds and human origins and dispersal. Dr. Penny received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Yale University in 1965. His postdoc was in the research unit for biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology at McMaster University in Canada. He joined Massey University in New Zealand in 1966 and became director of the Allan Wilson Center for Molecular Ecology and Evolution in 2002. Dr. Penny is the recipient of a Rutherford Medal from the Royal Society of New Zealand, of which he is a fellow, and a Marsden Medal from the New Zealand Association of Scientists, among other honors.
Accelerated Evolution in the Human Genome
Katherine S. Pollard, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of statistics and Genome Center, University of California, Davis.
The principal investigator of a laboratory of statistical and computational genomics, Katherine Pollard is interested in the analysis of high-dimensional genomic data. Projects in the Pollard lab include detecting fast-evolving regions of the primate genome, testing for protein abundance changes in tumors and identifying genetic markers associated with variation in gene expression in mammals and plants. Dr. Pollard received her Ph.D. in biostatistics from the University of California, Berkeley in 2003. She began her postdoc there and completed it in the biomolecular engineering department of UC Santa Cruz. She joined UC Davis as assistant professor in 2005. Dr. Pollard is the recipient of an Evelyn Fix Memorial Medal, among other honors.
The Deep Evolutionary History of Eukaryotes
Andrew Roger, Ph.D., associate professor, department of biochemistry and molecular biology, and director, Center for Comparative Genomics and Evolutionary Bioinformatics, Dalhousie University.
Andrew Roger’s work is focused on several key areas in evolutionary biology and comparative genomics: clarifying the endosymbiotic origin and diversity of mitochondrion-related organelles in eukaryotes; elucidating the super-kingdom level relationships in the tree of life; understanding the role of lateral gene transfer in eukaryotic genome evolution; and using computational methods to model gene, protein, genome and proteome evolution. Dr. Roger received his Ph.D. from Dalhousie University in 1996. His postdoc was at the Josephine Bay Paul Center for Comparative Molecular Biology and Evolution at the Marine Biological Laboratory, and he joined the faculty of Dalhousie University in 1999. He is a fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Program in Integrated Microbial Diversity and the recipient of an E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
RNA Interference May Provide a Window on the RNA-to-DNA World Transition
Phillip A. Sharp, Ph.D., Institute Professor, Center for Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Phillip Sharp’s research has centered on the molecular biology of gene expression relevant to cancer and the mechanisms of RNA splicing, as well as understanding RNA interference. His lab is investigating the mechanisms responsible for the activities of short interfering RNAs, with the objective of increasing their effectiveness in gene silencing and indentifying specific proteins important for the regulation of alternative RNA splicing and transcription. Dr. Sharp received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1969. He was a senior research investigator at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory before joining the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1974. He became professor in 1979. Dr. Sharp is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine and is the recipient of a National Medal of Science and a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, among other honors.
The Origins of Cellular Life
Jack W. Szostak, Ph.D., Alex Rich Distinguished Investigator and molecular biologist, Massachusetts General Hospital; professor of genetics, Harvard Medical School; investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The major research interests of the Szostak lab include the origin, early evolution and laboratory synthesis of life, as well as the in vitro, directed evolution of functional biopolymers. Dr. Szostak is interested in applying directed evolution to nonstandard nucleic acids, as a way of asking whether life could have evolved using genetic polymers other than RNA. He received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Cornell University in 1977 and joined Harvard in 1979. He has served as a molecular biologist with the Massachusetts General Hospital since 1984 and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1998. Dr. Szostak is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the recipient of a Genetics Society of America Medal, a Harrison Howe Award from the American Chemical Society and an Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, among other honors.
Cnidaria and the Evolution of the Bilaterian Body Plans: Insights from an Outgroup
Ulrich Technau, Ph.D., professor, department of theoretical biology, University of Vienna.
Ulrich Technau studies the evolution of animal complexity, and his model organisms are Cnidaria, considered the sister group of the Bilateria. In collaboration with other researchers, the Technau lab has used approaches of comparative and functional genomics and developmental biology to sequence the genomes of two cnidarians: the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis and the freshwater polyp Hydra magnipapillata, in which they have discovered genes usually associated with the development of Bilateria. Further studies may provide insights into crucial evolutionary events that led to the emergence of new body features. Dr. Technau received his Ph.D. from the Universities of München and Frankfurt in 1995. From 1997 to 2004 he was assistant professor of molecular cell biology at Darmstadt University of Technology. From 2004 to 2007 he was a group leader at the Sars International Center for Marine Molecular Biology in Bergen, Norway. He joined the University of Vienna in September, 2007.