Catalysis Meeting

Origins and evolution of chemoreception

PI(s): Roy Plotnick (University of Illinois)
Start Date: 1-Sep-2006
End Date: 28-Jun-2007
Keywords: chemoreception, comparative methods

Because the ability to detect, distinguish, and respond to chemicals in the external environment is essentially universal among all living things, chemoreception almost certainly arose contemporaneously with life itself. Changes in the nature of chemoreceptors should have occurred in concert with major transitions in the history of life, including the origins of eukaryotes and multicellular organisms, and the transition to land.
Fundamental similarities in the biology of chemoreception have been identified among disparate groups of metazoans. A key question is the extent to which these similarities represent homology or homoplasy. Unfortunately, in terms of both overall number of phyla represented, as well as diversity within phyla, the number of groups studied remains small. This clearly limits our ability to conduct comparative studies to test hypotheses about the evolution of chemoreceptors.
This Catalysis meeting will focus on nature of chemoreception, from bacteria to mammals, in the context of current phylogenies and the known fossil record. The key question to be addressed is to what extent similarities and differences in chemoreception among taxa can be attributed to common descent versus convergent solutions. Participants will discuss morphological, neurobiological, behavioral, and biochemical similarities and differences among chemosensory systems; the genetics and developmental biology of these systems; their ecology, in particular the influence on behavior of chemical signals; the biomechanics of odor detection; and chemosensory systems in the fossil record. The goal will be to outline the steps and data needed to evaluate and test alternative theories for the evolution of this fundamental sense.

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