The evolutionary mystery of orphan genes

This blog was written for the Nature Ecology and Evolution Community where it is posted here.

Every newly sequenced genome contains genes with no traceable evolutionary descent – the ash genome was no exception

This week in Nature I and my co-authors published the ash tree genome. Within it we found 38,852 protein-coding genes. Of these one quarter (9,604) were unique to ash. On the basis of our research so far, I cannot suggest shared evolutionary ancestry for these genes with those in ten other plants we compared ash to: coffee, grape, loblolly pine, monkey flower, poplar, tomato, Amborella, Arabidopsis, barrel medic, and bladderwort. This is despite the fact that monkey flower and bladderwort are in the same taxonomic order (Lamiales) as ash. Read More

Ash tree genomics in response to ash dieback

This blog was written for the Nature Ecology and Evolution Community where it is posted here.

The ash tree genome project published in Nature today began, for me, with a lunchtime conversation with Andrew Leitch in the SCR bar at Queen Mary University of London in early November 2012. Ash dieback had been found in natural woodland in England for in late October. Such was the seriousness of the likely environmental impact of the disease that the Prime Minister had convened the emergency COBRA committee to discuss the government’s response. Read More

Phenotypic plasticity drives cichlid radiations?

This blog was first posted here at Nature Ecology & Evolution Community on 8 December 2016

Rapid convergent radiations and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis

At the Royal Society last month, I was listening to proponents of the “extended evolutionary synthesis” (EES). Patrick Goymer has blogged this meeting for Nature Ecology & Evolution, and tweets from it can be found on Storify. The debates have rumbled on in the back of my mind since, especially the contention that phenotypic plasticity is too neglected in evolutionary biology. I was therefore fascinated to stumble upon a paper in press at Molecular Ecology which suggests an impressive case of phenotypic plasticity accelerating evolution. Ralf Schneider and Axel Meyer argue that rapid, convergent radiations of cichlid fish in East African Lakes have been greatly facilitated by morphological plasticity, and its fixation as regulatory networks degenerate. “The cichlids of Africa’s lakes impress us mightily with what evolution can do in a short space of time”, wrote Richard Dawkins in The Greatest Show on Earth (Bantam Press, 2009). Will these radiations become textbook examples of the EES in action?