Undergraduate Travel and Mentoring Award

The Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution is pleased to announce 10 travel grant and mentorship awards for undergraduate students to attend the annual SMBE meeting.

The selected students will participate in a Mentoring and Diversity Program, where by each student will be paired with a mentor to assist them throughout the SMBE meeting.  Five of these positions will be reserved for undergraduates from traditionally under‐represented groups in our scientific discipline. Half of these awards will also be aimed at increasing geographic representation at the SMBE annual meeting.

The goals of this program are:

  • to provide students with the opportunity to experience the excitement of attending and presenting at an international scientific conference,
  • to foster enthusiasm for molecular biology and evolution as well as a possible career in the field,
  • to promote diversity at the SMBE annual meeting.

Award Information

Eligibility: Applicants must be undergraduate students at the time of application.  


Application: Via the abstract submission system for the annual meeting for which the award applies.

Applicants are required to submit:

  • 250 word abstract, describing the research you will present in your poster
  • 250 word statement describing your year of study, subject and institution, and motivation for attending the SMBE meeting (why you want to attend, what you expect to gain)

  • brief ~250 word letter of confirmation and support from an academic supervisor

Grant recipients will prepare and present a poster describing their work at the meeting.  Instructions for preparing posters along with mentoring will be available for help with poster preparation.


Awardees are granted up to US $1,500 for travel within the same continent, and up to US $2,000 for long-haul travel. Reimbursements are processed after the meeting and awardees may claim travel, accommodation and meeting registration expenses. 

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MBE | Most Read

Molecular Biology and Evolution

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A Generalized Network Approach for Composite Gene Families Detection

Mon, 30 Oct 2017 00:00:00 GMT

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Tue, 24 Oct 2017 00:00:00 GMT

whereas asexual populations evolve via rapid, inefficient, and highly variable fixation of clones, sexual populations adapt continuously by gradually breaking down linkage disequilibrium between selected variants. Our results demonstrate how recombination can sustain adaptation over long timescales by inducing a transition from selection on genotypes to selection on individual alleles, and show how pervasive linked selection can affect evolutionary dynamics.

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Heritability of Setpoint Viral Load, CD4+ T-Cell Decline, and Per-Parasite Pathogenicity

Tue, 03 Oct 2017 00:00:00 GMT

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GBE | Most Read

Genome Biology & Evolution

Comparative Genomics Highlights Symbiotic Capacities and High Metabolic Flexibility of the Marine Genus Pseudovibrio

Mon, 08 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMT

Pseudovibrio is a marine bacterial genus members of which are predominantly isolated from sessile marine animals, and particularly sponges. It has been hypothesized that Pseudovibrio spp. form mutualistic relationships with their hosts. Here, we studied Pseudovibrio phylogeny and genetic adaptations that may play a role in host colonization by comparative genomics of 31 Pseudovibrio strains, including 25 sponge isolates. All genomes were highly similar in terms of encoded core metabolic pathways, albeit with substantial differences in overall gene content. Based on gene composition, Pseudovibrio spp. clustered by geographic region, indicating geographic speciation. Furthermore, the fact that isolates from the Mediterranean Sea clustered by sponge species suggested host-specific adaptation or colonization. Genome analyses suggest that Pseudovibrio hongkongensis UST20140214-015BT is only distantly related to other Pseudovibrio spp., thereby challenging its status as typical Pseudovibrio member. All Pseudovibrio genomes were found to encode numerous proteins with SEL1 and tetratricopeptide repeats, which have been suggested to play a role in host colonization. For evasion of the host immune system, Pseudovibrio spp. may depend on type III, IV, and VI secretion systems that can inject effector molecules into eukaryotic cells. Furthermore, Pseudovibrio genomes carry on average seven secondary metabolite biosynthesis clusters, reinforcing the role of Pseudovibrio spp. as potential producers of novel bioactive compounds. Tropodithietic acid, bacteriocin, and terpene biosynthesis clusters were highly conserved within the genus, suggesting an essential role in survival, for example through growth inhibition of bacterial competitors. Taken together, these results support the hypothesis that Pseudovibrio spp. have mutualistic relations with sponges.

Evolutionary Origin of OwlRep, a Megasatellite DNA Associated with Adaptation of Owl Monkeys to Nocturnal Lifestyle

Tue, 26 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Rod cells of many nocturnal mammals have a “non-standard” nuclear architecture, which is called the inverted nuclear architecture. Heterochromatin localizes to the central region of the nucleus. This leads to an efficient light transmission to the outer segments of photoreceptors. Rod cells of diurnal mammals have the conventional nuclear architecture. Owl monkeys (genus Aotus) are the only taxon of simian primates that has a nocturnal or cathemeral lifestyle, and this adaptation is widely thought to be secondary. Their rod cells were shown to exhibit an intermediate chromatin distribution: a spherical heterochromatin block was found in the central region of the nucleus although it was less complete than that of typical nocturnal mammals. We recently demonstrated that the primary DNA component of this heterochromatin block was OwlRep, a megasatellite DNA consisting of 187-bp-long repeat units. However, the origin of OwlRep was not known. Here we show that OwlRep was derived from HSAT6, a simple repeat sequence found in the centromere regions of human chromosomes. HSAT6 occurs widely in primates, suggesting that it was already present in the last common ancestor of extant primates. Notably, Strepsirrhini and Tarsiformes apparently carry a single HSAT6 copy, whereas many species of Simiiformes contain multiple copies. Comparison of nucleotide sequences of these copies revealed the entire process of the OwlRep formation. HSAT6, with or without flanking sequences, was segmentally duplicated in New World monkeys. Then, in the owl monkey linage after its divergence from other New World monkeys, a copy of HSAT6 was tandemly amplified, eventually forming a megasatellite DNA.

A New Standard for Crustacean Genomes: The Highly Contiguous, Annotated Genome Assembly of the Clam Shrimp Eulimnadia texana Reveals HOX Gene Order and Identifies the Sex Chromosome

Tue, 26 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Vernal pool clam shrimp (Eulimnadia texana) are a promising model system due to their ease of lab culture, short generation time, modest sized genome, a somewhat rare stable androdioecious sex determination system, and a requirement to reproduce via desiccated diapaused eggs. We generated a highly contiguous genome assembly using 46× of PacBio long read data and 216× of Illumina short reads, and annotated using Illumina RNAseq obtained from adult males or hermaphrodites. Of the 120 Mb genome 85% is contained in the largest eight contigs, the smallest of which is 4.6 Mb. The assembly contains 98% of transcripts predicted via RNAseq. This assembly is qualitatively different from scaffolded Illumina assemblies: It is produced from long reads that contain sequence data along their entire length, and is thus gap free. The contiguity of the assembly allows us to order the HOX genes within the genome, identifying two loci that contain HOX gene orthologs, and which approximately maintain the order observed in other arthropods. We identified a partial duplication of the Antennapedia complex adjacent to the few genes homologous to the Bithorax locus. Because the sex chromosome of an androdioecious species is of special interest, we used existing allozyme and microsatellite markers to identify the E. texana sex chromosome, and find that it comprises nearly half of the genome of this species. Linkage patterns indicate that recombination is extremely rare and perhaps absent in hermaphrodites, and as a result the location of the sex determining locus will be difficult to refine using recombination mapping.

Modularity Facilitates Flexible Tuning of Plastic and Evolutionary Gene Expression Responses during Early Divergence

Sat, 23 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Gene expression changes have been recognized as important drivers of adaptation to changing environmental conditions. Little is known about the relative roles of plastic and evolutionary responses in complex gene expression networks during the early stages of divergence. Large gene expression data sets coupled with in silico methods for identifying coexpressed modules now enable systems genetics approaches also in nonmodel species for better understanding of gene expression responses during early divergence. Here, we combined gene coexpression analyses with population genetics to separate plastic and population (evolutionary) effects in expression networks using small salmonid populations as a model system. We show that plastic and population effects were highly variable among the six identified modules and that the plastic effects explained larger proportion of the total eigengene expression than population effects. A more detailed analysis of the population effects using a QST - FST comparison across 16,622 annotated transcripts revealed that gene expression followed neutral expectations within modules and at the global level. Furthermore, two modules showed enrichment for genes coding for early developmental traits that have been previously identified as important phenotypic traits in thermal responses in the same model system indicating that coexpression analysis can capture expression patterns underlying ecologically important traits. We suggest that module-specific responses may facilitate the flexible tuning of expression levels to local thermal conditions. Overall, our study indicates that plasticity and neutral evolution are the main drivers of gene expression variance in the early stages of thermal adaptation in this system.

Comparative Genomics of Bacteriophage of the Genus Seuratvirus

Wed, 20 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Despite being more abundant and having smaller genomes than their bacterial host, relatively few bacteriophages have had their genomes sequenced. Here, we isolated 14 bacteriophages from cattle slurry and performed de novo genome sequencing, assembly, and annotation. The commonly used marker genes polB and terL showed these bacteriophages to be closely related to members of the genus Seuratvirus. We performed a core-gene analysis using the 14 new and four closely related genomes. A total of 58 core genes were identified, the majority of which has no known function. These genes were used to construct a core-gene phylogeny, the results of which confirmed the new isolates to be part of the genus Seuratvirus and expanded the number of species within this genus to four. All bacteriophages within the genus contained the genes queCDE encoding enzymes involved in queuosine biosynthesis. We suggest these genes are carried as a mechanism to modify DNA in order to protect these bacteriophages against host endonucleases.

Genetic Competence Drives Genome Diversity in Bacillus subtilis

Wed, 20 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Prokaryote genomes are the result of a dynamic flux of genes, with increases achieved via horizontal gene transfer and reductions occurring through gene loss. The ecological and selective forces that drive this genomic flexibility vary across species. Bacillus subtilis is a naturally competent bacterium that occupies various environments, including plant-associated, soil, and marine niches, and the gut of both invertebrates and vertebrates. Here, we quantify the genomic diversity of B. subtilis and infer the genome dynamics that explain the high genetic and phenotypic diversity observed. Phylogenomic and comparative genomic analyses of 42 B. subtilis genomes uncover a remarkable genome diversity that translates into a core genome of 1,659 genes and an asymptotic pangenome growth rate of 57 new genes per new genome added. This diversity is due to a large proportion of low-frequency genes that are acquired from closely related species. We find no gene-loss bias among wild isolates, which explains why the cloud genome, 43% of the species pangenome, represents only a small proportion of each genome. We show that B. subtilis can acquire xenologous copies of core genes that propagate laterally among strains within a niche. While not excluding the contributions of other mechanisms, our results strongly suggest a process of gene acquisition that is largely driven by competence, where the long-term maintenance of acquired genes depends on local and global fitness effects. This competence-driven genomic diversity provides B. subtilis with its generalist character, enabling it to occupy a wide range of ecological niches and cycle through them.

A Novel Hantavirus of the European Mole, Bruges Virus, Is Involved in Frequent Nova Virus Coinfections

Tue, 19 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Hantaviruses are zoonotic viruses with a complex evolutionary history of virus–host coevolution and cross-species transmission. Although hantaviruses have a broad reservoir host range, virus–host relationships were previously thought to be strict, with a single virus species infecting a single host species. Here, we describe Bruges virus, a novel hantavirus harbored by the European mole (Talpa europaea), which is the well-known host of Nova virus. Phylogenetic analyses of all three genomic segments showed tree topology inconsistencies, suggesting that Bruges virus has emerged from cross-species transmission and ancient reassortment events. A high number of coinfections with Bruges and Nova viruses was detected, but no evidence was found for reassortment between these two hantaviruses. These findings highlight the complexity of hantavirus evolution and the importance of further investigation of hantavirus–reservoir relationships.

At the Origin of a Worldwide Invasion: Unraveling the Genetic Makeup of the Caribbean Bridgehead Populations of the Dengue Vector Aedes aegypti

Mon, 18 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Human-driven global environmental changes have considerably increased the risk of biological invasions, especially the spread of human parasites and their vectors. Among exotic species that have major impacts on public health, the dengue fever mosquito Aedes aegypti originating from Africa has spread worldwide during the last three centuries. Although considerable progress has been recently made in understanding the history of this invasion, the respective roles of human and abiotic factors in shaping patterns of genetic diversity remain largely unexplored. Using a genome-wide sample of genetic variants (3,530 ddRAD SNPs), we analyzed the genetic structure of Ae. aegypti populations in the Caribbean, the first introduced territories in the Americas. Fourteen populations were sampled in Guyane and in four islands of the Antilles that differ in climatic conditions, intensity of urbanization, and vector control history. The genetic diversity in the Caribbean was low (He = 0.14–0.17), as compared with a single African collection from Benin (He = 0.26) and site-frequency spectrum analysis detected an ancient bottleneck dating back ∼300 years ago, supporting a founder event during the introduction of Ae. aegypti. Evidence for a more recent bottleneck may be related to the eradication program undertaken on the American continent in the 1950s. Among 12 loci detected as FST-outliers, two were located in candidate genes for insecticide resistance (cytochrome P450 and voltage-gated sodium channel). Genome–environment association tests identified additional loci associated with human density and/or deltamethrin resistance. Our results highlight the high impact of human pressures on the demographic history and genetic variation of Ae. aegypti Caribbean populations.

Plant-Mediated Female Transcriptomic Changes Post-Mating in a Tephritid Fruit Fly, Bactrocera tryoni

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Female post-mating behaviors are regulated by complex factors involving males, females, and the environment. In insects, plant secondary compounds that males actively forage for, may indirectly modify female behaviors by altering male behavior and physiology. In the tephritid fruit fly, Bactrocera tryoni, females mated with males previously fed on plant-derived phenylpropanoids (=“lures” based on usage in tephritid literature), have longer mating refractoriness, greater fecundity, and reduced longevity than females mated with non-lure fed males. This system thus provides a model for studying transcriptional changes associated with those post-mating behaviors, as the genes regulating the phenotypic changes are likely to be expressed at a greater magnitude than in control females. We performed comparative transcriptome analyses using virgin B. tryoni females, females mated with control males (control-mated), and females mated with lure-fed males (lure-mated). We found 331 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in control-mated females and 80 additional DEGs in lure-mated females. Although DEGs in control-mated females are mostly immune response genes and chorion proteins, as reported in Drosophila species, DEGs in lure-mated females are titin-like muscle proteins, histones, sperm, and testis expressed proteins which have not been previously reported. While transcripts regulating mating (e.g., lingerer) did not show differential expression in either of the mated female classes, the odorant binding protein Obp56a was down-regulated. The exclusively enriched or suppressed genes in lure-mated females, novel transcripts such as titin and histones, and several taxa-specific transcripts reported here can shed more light on post-mating transcriptional changes, and this can help understand factors possibly regulating female post-mating behaviors.

Migration-Selection Balance Drives Genetic Differentiation in Genes Associated with High-Altitude Function in the Speckled Teal (Anas flavirostris) in the Andes

Fri, 01 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

Local adaptation frequently occurs across populations as a result of migration-selection balance between divergent selective pressures and gene flow associated with life in heterogeneous landscapes. Studying the effects of selection and gene flow on the adaptation process can be achieved in systems that have recently colonized extreme environments. This study utilizes an endemic South American duck species, the speckled teal (Anas flavirostris), which has both high- and low-altitude populations. High-altitude speckled teal (A. f. oxyptera) are locally adapted to the Andean environment and mostly allopatric from low-altitude birds (A. f. flavirostris); however, there is occasional gene flow across altitudinal gradients. In this study, we used next-generation sequencing to explore genetic patterns associated with high-altitude adaptation in speckled teal populations, as well as the extent to which the balance between selection and migration have affected genetic architecture. We identified a set of loci with allele frequencies strongly correlated with altitude, including those involved in the insulin-like signaling pathway, bone morphogenesis, oxidative phosphorylation, responders to hypoxia-induced DNA damage, and feedback loops to the hypoxia-inducible factor pathway. These same outlier loci were found to have depressed gene flow estimates, as well as being highly concentrated on the Z-chromosome. Our results suggest a multifactorial response to life at high altitudes through an array of interconnected pathways that are likely under positive selection and whose genetic components seem to be providing an effective genomic barrier to interbreeding, potentially functioning as an avenue for population divergence and speciation.

Distribution and Evolution of Peroxisomes in Alveolates (Apicomplexa, Dinoflagellates, Ciliates)

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

The peroxisome was the last organelle to be discovered and five decades later it is still the Cinderella of eukaryotic compartments. Peroxisomes have a crucial role in the detoxification of reactive oxygen species, the beta-oxidation of fatty acids, and the biosynthesis of etherphospholipids, and they are assumed to be present in virtually all aerobic eukaryotes. Apicomplexan parasites including the malaria and toxoplasmosis agents were described as the first group of mitochondriate protists devoid of peroxisomes. This study was initiated to reassess the distribution and evolution of peroxisomes in the superensemble Alveolata (apicomplexans, dinoflagellates, ciliates). We established transcriptome data from two chromerid algae (Chromera velia, Vitrella brassicaformis), and two dinoflagellates (Prorocentrum minimum, Perkinsus olseni) and identified the complete set of essential peroxins in all four reference species. Our comparative genome analysis provides unequivocal evidence for the presence of peroxisomes in Toxoplasma gondii and related genera. Our working hypothesis of a common peroxisomal origin of all alveolates is supported by phylogenetic analyses of essential markers such as the import receptor Pex5. Vitrella harbors the most comprehensive set of peroxisomal proteins including the catalase and the glyoxylate cycle and it is thus a promising model organism to investigate the functional role of this organelle in Apicomplexa.

Speciation Generates Mosaic Genomes in Kangaroos

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMT

The iconic Australasian kangaroos and wallabies represent a successful marsupial radiation. However, the evolutionary relationship within the two genera, Macropus and Wallabia, is controversial: mitochondrial and nuclear genes, and morphological data have produced conflicting scenarios regarding the phylogenetic relationships, which in turn impact the classification and taxonomy. We sequenced and analyzed the genomes of 11 kangaroos to investigate the evolutionary cause of the observed phylogenetic conflict. A multilocus coalescent analysis using ∼14,900 genome fragments, each 10 kb long, significantly resolved the species relationships between and among the sister-genera Macropus and Wallabia. The phylogenomic approach reconstructed the swamp wallaby (Wallabia) as nested inside Macropus, making this genus paraphyletic. However, the phylogenomic analyses indicate multiple conflicting phylogenetic signals in the swamp wallaby genome. This is interpreted as at least one introgression event between the ancestor of the genus Wallabia and a now extinct ghost lineage outside the genus Macropus. Additional phylogenetic signals must therefore be caused by incomplete lineage sorting and/or introgression, but available statistical methods cannot convincingly disentangle the two processes. In addition, the relationships inside the Macropus subgenus M. (Notamacropus) represent a hard polytomy. Thus, the relationships between tammar, red-necked, agile, and parma wallabies remain unresolvable even with whole-genome data. Even if most methods resolve bifurcating trees from genomic data, hard polytomies, incomplete lineage sorting, and introgression complicate the interpretation of the phylogeny and thus taxonomy.