Pictured from left to right: Atahualpa Castillo Morales, Laura Landweber, Marc Tollis, Alejandra Rodriguez- Verdugo, W. Ford Doolittle, Mia Levine, Sudhir Kumar, Isabela Jeronimo Bezerra Marcos, James Fleming and Joseph Palmer 

Congratulations to the recipients of the SMBE 2017 annual awards! As announced at the SMBE 2017 Annual Meeting: 

Mia Levine, University of Pennsylvania, Allan Wilson Junior Award for Independent Research

Dr. Mia Levine is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology and the Epigenetics Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. The Levine Lab investigates how intra-genomic conflict shapes the evolution of DNA packaging proteins. Together with her trainees, Mia combines evolutionary genetics with transgenics, genomics, and cell biology to identify selfish genetic elements that drive host protein adaptation and to uncover the functional consequences for chromosome integrity and transmission. Mia graduated magna cum laude with a BA in Biology from the University of Pennsylvania, where she is now faculty. She earned an MSc in Ecology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign under Dr. Ken Paige and an NSF GRFP-supported PhD in population genetics from the Center of Population Biology at the University of California, Davis under Dr. David Begun. Mia joined the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to work with Dr. Harmit Malik as a postdoctoral fellow supported by an NIH NIGMS Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA and an NIH NIGMS K99 Pathway to Independence Award. Mia is currently a Forbeck Foundation Scholar and recipient of an NIH NIGMS R35 Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award.

W. Ford Doolittle, Dalhousie University, Motoo Kimura Lifetime Contribution Award

W. Ford Doolittle was born in Urbana, Illinois in 1942. He attended Harvard College (BA in Biochemical Sciences) and Stanford University (PhD in Biological Sciences, with Charles Yanofsky). After postdoctoral work with Sol Spiegelman and Norman Pace, he took up a position at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he has been ever since. For twenty years he directed the Evolutionary Biology Program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. His 300+ papers include experimental proof of the endosymbiont hypothesis, early molecular studies of cyanobacteria, the first shuttle vector and mapping systems for Archaea, and the metagenomic discovery of actinorhodopsin. Of a more theoretical nature are his developments of the "introns-early" hypothesis, the notion of "selfish DNA", Constructive Neutral Evolution as an alternative to selection, and a reconsideration of the Tree of Life in the light of lateral gene transfer. He is currently more concerned with philosophical issues, such as the meaning of "function" and the possibility of "Darwinizing Gaia". He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, and the winner of the 2013 Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal and the 2017 Killam Prize in Natural Sciences, Canada's highest awards.

Toni Gabaldón, CRG, Margaret Dayhoff Mid-Career Award

Toni Gabaldón has a degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Valencia (Spain), and obtained his PhD (under the supervision of Martijn Huynen) in 2005 at he Nijmegen Center for Molecular Life Sciences. Nijmegen (The Netherlands). Since September 2008, he leads the Comparative Genomics group of the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona (Spain), and is associate professor at the University Pompeu Fabra. Gabaldón has been working in the fields of comparative and evolutionary genomics where he has made significant contributions to the understanding of how genomes and phenotypes evolve across species. Major contributions from his research include providing fundamental insights into the origin an evolution of eukaryotes and their organelles; evolution of function across gene families and the implications of orthology and paralogy; and the study of genome evolution in eukaryotes, including non-vertical processes such as horizontal gene transfer and hybridization. He has authored over 140 publications and has been awarded the prestigieous ERC Starting and Consolidator grants, and the ICREA Professorship.

Sudhir Kumar, Temple University, recipient of the SMBE Community Service Award

Sudhir Kumar, Temple University, SMBE Community Service Award

Sudhir Kumar has been an early leader in exploring the theoretical and empirical intersection of evolutionary biology with computational biology, and forging accessible tools that allow researchers from diverse backgrounds to harness the analytical power of modern computational biology. With a background in Biological Sciences and Electrical & Electronics Engineering from Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences, he completed a Ph.D. and postdoctoral work in Genetics at Pennsylvania State University, mentored by Dr. Masatoshi Nei. During this period, he worked to develop the first version of Molecular Evolutionary Genetics Analysis (MEGA), a freely-accessible software package that has been maintained and improved over more than 20 years since its release. The enduring popularity of MEGA results from Kumar’s responsiveness to community needs and dedication to accessibility and scientific rigor. He has made numerous contributions to the mathematical theory of phylogenetics through advances in estimating evolutionary distances, inference of divergence times, and algorithms for constructing phylogenetic trees. Kumar and his laboratory continue to work actively on improving phylogenetic theory and applications to the growing field of phylomedicine, which explores disease via phylogenetic methods and makes predictions informed by evolutionary biology. Sudhir Kumar is currently the Laura H. Carnell Professor and the Director of the Institute for Genomics and Evolutionary Medicine at Temple University. He has served the SMBE community as elected Secretary, webmaster, President, chair of the organizing committee of the SMBE annual meeting in 2006 in Tempe, Arizona, and is currently serving as Editor-in-Chief of the society journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Alejandra Rodríguez-Verdugo, Uppsala University, MBE Best Student Paper Award (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26500250)

Anouk Willemsen, MIVEGEC - Centre IRD de Montpellier,  GBE Best Student Paper Award (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27604880)

Walter M. Fitch Award for Best Student Presentation:

Anna Vickrey, University of Utah

Best Poster Awards for Postdoctoral Researchers:

Marc Tollis
Elizabeth Atkinson
Atahualpa Castillo Morales

Best Poster Awards for PhD Students:

James Fleming
Pinglin Cao
Magdalena Kubiak

Best Poster Awards for Undergraduate Researchers:

Isabela Jeronimo Bezerra Marcos
Joseph Palmer
Dan Werndly

@OfficialSMBE Feed

MBE | Most Read

Molecular Biology and Evolution

Study Finds Large Chromosomal Swaps Key to Banana Domestication








A Fast and Accurate Supertree Algorithm







swarming in the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Using genetic engineering, we excised a locus encoding a key metabolic regulator and disrupted P. aeruginosa’s metabolic prudence, the regulatory mechanism that controls expression of swarming public goods and protects this social behavior from exploitation by cheaters. Then, using experimental evolution, we followed the joint evolution of the genome, the metabolome and the social behavior as swarming re-evolved. New variants emerged spontaneously with mutations that reorganized the metabolome and compensated in distinct ways for the disrupted metabolic prudence. These experiments with a unicellular organism provide a detailed view of how metabolism—currency of all physiological processes—can determine the costs and benefits of a social behavior and ultimately influence how an organism behaves towards other organisms of the same species.




(Nei Lecture, SMBE 2016, Gold Coast)







The Deep Evolution of Amoebae



Smart Model Selection in PhyML


command-line (to be integrated in pipelines) and a web server (http://www.atgc-montpellier.fr/phyml-sms/).">http://www.atgc-montpellier.fr/phyml-sms/">http://www.atgc-montpellier.fr/phyml-sms/).





GBE | Most Read

Genome Biology & Evolution

Distribution, Diversity, and Long-Term Retention of Grass Short Interspersed Nuclear Elements (SINEs)


Instances of highly conserved plant short interspersed nuclear element (SINE) families and their enrichment near genes have been well documented, but little is known about the general patterns of such conservation and enrichment and underlying mechanisms. Here, we perform a comprehensive investigation of the structure, distribution, and evolution of SINEs in the grass family by analyzing 14 grass and 5 other flowering plant genomes using comparative genomics methods. We identify 61 SINE families composed of 29,572 copies, in which 46 families are first described. We find that comparing with other grass TEs, grass SINEs show much higher level of conservation in terms of genomic retention: The origin of at least 26% families can be traced to early grass diversification and these families are among most abundant SINE families in 86% species. We find that these families show much higher level of enrichment near protein coding genes than families of relatively recent origin (51%:28%), and that 40% of all grass SINEs are near gene and the percentage is higher than other types of grass TEs. The pattern of enrichment suggests that differential removal of SINE copies in gene-poor regions plays an important role in shaping the genomic distribution of these elements. We also identify a sequence motif located at 3′ SINE end which is shared in 17 families. In short, this study provides insights into structure and evolution of SINEs in the grass family.

Whole-Genome Sequence of the Anaerobic Isosaccharinic Acid Degrading Isolate, Macellibacteroides fermentans Strain HH-ZS


The ability of micro-organisms to degrade isosaccharinic acids (ISAs) while tolerating hyperalkaline conditions is pivotal to our understanding of the biogeochemistry associated within these environs, but also in scenarios pertaining to the cementitious disposal of radioactive wastes. An alkalitolerant, ISA degrading micro-organism was isolated from the hyperalkaline soils resulting from lime depositions. Here, we report the first whole-genome sequence, ISA degradation profile and carbohydrate preoteome of a Macellibacteroides fermentans strain HH-ZS, 4.08 Mb in size, coding 3,241 proteins, 64 tRNA, and 1 rRNA.

Ultraconserved Sequences Associated with HoxD Cluster Have Strong Repression Activity


Increase in the complexity of organisms during evolution strongly correlates with the increase in the noncoding DNA content of their genomes. Although a gradual increase in the proportion of repetitive DNA elements along with increasing complexity is known, most of the noncoding components of the genome remain uncharacterized. A nonrepetitive but highly conserved noncoding component of the genome in vertebrates, called ultraconserved DNA sequences, constitutes up to 5% of the human genome. The function of most of the ultraconserved DNA elements is not well known. One such ultraconserved stretch of DNA has been identified upstream of the HoxD cluster in vertebrates. We analyzed the function of these elements in different cell lines and zebrafish. Our results suggest that these ultraconserved sequences work as repressor elements. This is the first report which reveals the repressor function of ultraconserved sequences and implicates their role in the regulation of developmental genes.

Comparative Genomics Reveals Two Major Bouts of Gene Retroposition Coinciding with Crucial Periods of Symbiodinium Evolution


Gene retroposition is an important mechanism of genome evolution but the role it plays in dinoflagellates, a critical player in marine ecosystems, is not known. Until recently, when the genomes of two coral-symbiotic dinoflagellate genomes, Symbiodinium kawagutii and S. minutum, were released, it has not been possible to systematically study these retrogenes. Here we examine the abundant retrogenes (∼23% of the total genes) in these species. The hallmark of retrogenes in the genome is the presence of DCCGTAGCCATTTTGGCTCAAG, a spliced leader (DinoSL) constitutively trans-spliced to the 5′-end of all nucleus-encoded mRNAs. Although the retrogenes have often lost part of the 22-nt DinoSL, the putative promoter motif from the DinoSL, TTT(T/G), is consistently retained in the upstream region of these genes, providing an explanation for the high survival rate of retrogenes in dinoflagellates. Our analysis of DinoSL sequence divergence revealed two major bursts of retroposition in the evolutionary history of Symbiodinium, occurring at ∼60 and ∼6 Ma. Reconstruction of the evolutionary trajectory of the Symbiodinium genomes mapped these 2 times to the origin and rapid radiation of this dinoflagellate lineage, respectively. GO analysis revealed differential functional enrichment of the retrogenes between the two episodes, with a broad impact on transport in the first bout and more localized influence on symbiosis-related processes such as cell adhesion in the second bout. This study provides the first evidence of large-scale retroposition as a major mechanism of genome evolution for any organism and sheds light on evolution of coral symbiosis.

Phylogenomic Resolution of the Phylogeny of Laurasiatherian Mammals: Exploring Phylogenetic Signals within Coding and Noncoding Sequences


The interordinal relationships of Laurasiatherian mammals are currently one of the most controversial questions in mammalian phylogenetics. Previous studies mainly relied on coding sequences (CDS) and seldom used noncoding sequences. Here, by data mining public genome data, we compiled an intron data set of 3,638 genes (all introns from a protein-coding gene are considered as a gene) (19,055,073 bp) and a CDS data set of 10,259 genes (20,994,285 bp), covering all major lineages of Laurasiatheria (except Pholidota). We found that the intron data contained stronger and more congruent phylogenetic signals than the CDS data. In agreement with this observation, concatenation and species-tree analyses of the intron data set yielded well-resolved and identical phylogenies, whereas the CDS data set produced weakly supported and incongruent results. Further analyses showed that the phylogeny inferred from the intron data is highly robust to data subsampling and change in outgroup, but the CDS data produced unstable results under the same conditions. Interestingly, gene tree statistical results showed that the most frequently observed gene tree topologies for the CDS and intron data are identical, suggesting that the major phylogenetic signal within the CDS data is actually congruent with that within the intron data. Our final result of Laurasiatheria phylogeny is (Eulipotyphla,((Chiroptera, Perissodactyla),(Carnivora, Cetartiodactyla))), favoring a close relationship between Chiroptera and Perissodactyla. Our study 1) provides a well-supported phylogenetic framework for Laurasiatheria, representing a step towards ending the long-standing “hard” polytomy and 2) argues that intron within genome data is a promising data resource for resolving rapid radiation events across the tree of life.

The Evolutionary Dynamics of the Odorant Receptor Gene Family in Corbiculate Bees


Insects rely on chemical information to locate food, choose mates, and detect potential predators. It has been hypothesized that adaptive changes in the olfactory system facilitated the diversification of numerous insect lineages. For instance, evolutionary changes of Odorant Receptor (OR) genes often occur in parallel with modifications in life history strategies. Corbiculate bees display a diverse array of behaviors that are controlled through olfaction, including varying degrees of social organization, and manifold associations with floral resources. Here we investigated the molecular mechanisms driving the evolution of the OR gene family in corbiculate bees in comparison to other chemosensory gene families. Our results indicate that the genomic organization of the OR gene family has remained highly conserved for ∼80 Myr, despite exhibiting major changes in repertoire size among bee lineages. Moreover, the evolution of OR genes appears to be driven mostly by lineage-specific gene duplications in few genomic regions that harbor large numbers of OR genes. A selection analysis revealed that OR genes evolve under positive selection, with the strongest signals detected in recently duplicated copies. Our results indicate that chromosomal translocations had a minimal impact on OR evolution, and instead local molecular mechanisms appear to be main drivers of OR repertoire size. Our results provide empirical support to the longstanding hypothesis that positive selection shaped the diversification of the OR gene family. Together, our results shed new light on the molecular mechanisms underlying the evolution of olfaction in insects.

Discerning the Origins of the Negritos, First Sundaland People: Deep Divergence and Archaic Admixture


Human presence in Southeast Asia dates back to at least 40,000 years ago, when the current islands formed a continental shelf called Sundaland. In the Philippine Islands, Peninsular Malaysia, and Andaman Islands, there exist indigenous groups collectively called Negritos whose ancestry can be traced to the “First Sundaland People.” To understand the relationship between these Negrito groups and their demographic histories, we generated genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism data in the Philippine Negritos and compared them with existing data from other populations. Phylogenetic tree analyses show that Negritos are basal to other East and Southeast Asians, and that they diverged from West Eurasians at least 38,000 years ago. We also found relatively high traces of Denisovan admixture in the Philippine Negritos, but not in the Malaysian and Andamanese groups, suggesting independent introgression and/or parallel losses involving Denisovan introgressed regions. Shared genetic loci between all three Negrito groups could be related to skin pigmentation, height, facial morphology and malarial resistance. These results show the unique status of Negrito groups as descended from the First Sundaland People.

Silencing Effect of Hominoid Highly Conserved Noncoding Sequences on Embryonic Brain Development


Superfamily Hominoidea, which consists of Hominidae (humans and great apes) and Hylobatidae (gibbons), is well-known for sharing human-like characteristics, however, the genomic origins of these shared unique phenotypes have mainly remained elusive. To decipher the underlying genomic basis of Hominoidea-restricted phenotypes, we identified and characterized Hominoidea-restricted highly conserved noncoding sequences (HCNSs) that are a class of potential regulatory elements which may be involved in evolution of lineage-specific phenotypes. We discovered 679 such HCNSs from human, chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan and gibbon genomes. These HCNSs were demonstrated to be under purifying selection but with lineage-restricted characteristics different from old CNSs. A significant proportion of their ancestral sequences had accelerated rates of nucleotide substitutions, insertions and deletions during the evolution of common ancestor of Hominoidea, suggesting the intervention of positive Darwinian selection for creating those HCNSs. In contrary to enhancer elements and similar to silencer sequences, these Hominoidea-restricted HCNSs are located in close proximity of transcription start sites. Their target genes are enriched in the nervous system, development and transcription, and they tend to be remotely located from the nearest coding gene. Chip-seq signals and gene expression patterns suggest that Hominoidea-restricted HCNSs are likely to be functional regulatory elements by imposing silencing effects on their target genes in a tissue-restricted manner during fetal brain development. These HCNSs, emerged through adaptive evolution and conserved through purifying selection, represent a set of promising targets for future functional studies of the evolution of Hominoidea-restricted phenotypes.

Genome-Wide SNP Analysis Reveals Distinct Origins of Trypanosoma evansi and Trypanosoma equiperdum


Trypanosomes cause a variety of diseases in man and domestic animals in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. In the Trypanozoon subgenus, Trypanosoma brucei gambiense and Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense cause human African trypanosomiasis, whereas Trypanosoma brucei brucei, Trypanosoma evansi, and Trypanosoma equiperdum are responsible for nagana, surra, and dourine in domestic animals, respectively. The genetic relationships between T. evansi and T. equiperdum and other Trypanozoon species remain unclear because the majority of phylogenetic analyses has been based on only a few genes. In this study, we have conducted a phylogenetic analysis based on genome-wide SNP analysis comprising 56 genomes from the Trypanozoon subgenus. Our data reveal that T. equiperdum has emerged at least once in Eastern Africa and T. evansi at two independent occasions in Western Africa. The genomes within the T. equiperdum and T. evansi monophyletic clusters show extremely little variation, probably due to the clonal spread linked to the independence from tsetse flies for their transmission.