Molecular Insights into Classic Examples of Evolution

November 5, 2010

1:00pm - 5:00pm

Mirage Room, Hyatt Regency

Minneapolis, MN

Educational Resources online CD

This year's Evolution Symposium features four exciting speakers whose research in molecular evolution is revolutionizing our understanding of familiar and compelling examples of evolution.  Learn more about Sean Carroll's work in Drosophila wing coloration and Hopi Hoekstra's research into the underlying molecular mechanisms of coat color in beach mice. Butch Brodie will present research on the toxin arms race between newts and garter snakes, and Allen Rodrigo will talk about the practical and research value of studies in viral evolution.

butch_brodieEdmund "Butch" D. Brodie, III - University of Virginia, VA

Time to change the channel: Predator-prey arms races and the evolution of toxin resistance in snakes

Arms races between predators and dangerous prey can lead to rapid and elaborate counter-adaptation.  Newts of the genus Taricha possess the sodium channel blocker tetrodotoxin (TTX), which is lethal to most predators.  Garter snakes have repeatedly evolved resistance to TTX through their ecological interaction with toxic newts.  Sodium channel genes are highly conserved across vertebrates, yet garter snakes have evolved resistance through a few key mutations in these proteins in a very short evolutionary time.  Snake species around the world have evolved TTX resistance through the same set of mutations, painting a clear picture of constraint driven convergent evolution.  Understanding the molecular mechanism of adaptation helps explain the dynamics of predator-prey arms races in this system, wherein predators sometimes "win" the race, but prey never do.

Educational Resources from the CD

Butch Brodie's research and teaching resources

Video of garter snakes and newts

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Allen G. Rodrigo - National Evolutionary Synthesis Center and Duke University

Rapidly Evolving Viruses: Studying Molecular Evolution in Real Time

Viruses like HIV, Human Influenza Virus, and Hepatitis B and C Viruses, acquire mutations in their genetic material very rapidly. This means that over the course of an epidemic, or an infection lasting one or more years, we are able to see changes in these viruses and study the evolutionary processes that act on these populations. Rapidly evolving viruses are subject to genetic drift, selection, recombination and the dynamics of population growth and subdivision. In this talk, I will describe how understanding virus evolution allows us to understand disease and therapy. I will also talk about how evolutionary principles have been used in vaccine design.

Educational Resources from the CD

Allen Rodrigo's research and teaching resources

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Hopi_HoekstraHopi E. Hoekstra - John L. Loeb Associate Professor of Biology, Department of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology and Curator of Mammals, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University

From mice to molecules: the genetics of color adaptation

Camouflaging color is a classic example of adaptation—organisms that match their local environment often have a lower probability of predation relative to conspicuous individuals. Until recently, however, the underlying genetic changes responsible for this adaptation have been unknown. We have been studying cryptic coloration in natural populations of oldfield mice (Peromyscus polionotus), which show extreme color variation throughout their range in the southeastern U.S., first noted by naturalists in the early 1900s. While mice in the mainland have typical dark brown coats, mice that have recently colonized Florida’s coastal dunes and barrier islands have evolved light color and a unique color pattern to blend into the brilliant white-sand beaches. In this talk, I will present data -- from both the lab and the field – in which we (1) experimentally demonstrate that coloration matters for survival in the wild, and (2) identify the genes and developmental process responsible for color variation in these mice. Together, these results allow us to retrace the evolutionary path of adaptive change in the wild, teaching us new lessons about the evolution of diversity along the way.

Educational Resources from the CD

Hopi Hoekstra's research and teaching resources

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Sean Carroll - University of Wisconsin, Madison and Howard Hughes Medical Institutes

How Bugs Get Their Spots: Genetic switches and the evolution of form

Understanding the genetic mechanisms underlying the evolution of animal form has long been a quest of evolutionary biology. A large body of comparative and experimental data has pointed to the central importance of non-coding regulatory DNA sequences ("genetic switches") in the evolution of development and form. I will discuss a few case studies of insect color patterns that illuminate the general role of genetic switches in the evolution of form.

Educational Resources from the CD

Sean Carroll's research and teaching resources

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Molecular evolution symposium to be webcast live

Even if you can’t make it to this year’s meeting in Minneapolis, you can still watch the symposium via live webcast.Tune in Friday, November 5th from 2:00-6:00 PM EST (1:00-5:00 PM CDT) and go to http://dukeuniversity.na5.acrobat.com/nabt2010.


2010 Workshop

November 6, 2010

The theme for this year's Evolution Symposium and this workshop will focus on integrating molecular evolution into the classroom.  This topic can be challenging for students, but a better understanding of the "genotype to phenotype" relationship can help address a number of common misconceptions about evolutionary concepts.  Dr. Jim Smith, Associate Professor of Biology at Michigan State University, will lead an activity demonstrating the underlying molecular mechanisms resulting in round or wrinkled peas.  We will also tour the eduational resources collection which provides supporting materials for each speaker's presentation, taking time to demonstrate some of the activities.  Participants will also have time to work together to brainstorm how to incorporate molecular evolution in their own classrooms.


For more information about the 2010 NABT Conference, including registration please go to the NABT website.