Monday, December 29, 2014

The Urge to Merge: Towards a Unified Theory on the Origin of Species

Above is my keynote lecture from Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia from a workshop on the Evolutionary Genomics of Symbiosis (Recorded December 2nd, 2014).  Part historical, part philosophical, part research, the lecture discusses the history of evolution and symbiosis (from Darwin to today), the culture divide that polarizes to a certain degree contemporary studies of speciation, and the prospects going forward for unifying evolution, genetics and symbiosis into a coherent theory on species formation.

I specifically review our work on F1 and F2 hybrid lethality induced by Wolbachia endosymbionts and the gut microbiome. With regards to the universality of symbiosis in speciation, I end by asking whether our study system of Nasonia wasps is just hyper-prone to symbionts causing reproductive isolation, or instead have we and others just experimentally asked the question of whether symbionts can drive the origin of species where others have not. Often the difference comes down to simply remeasuring the isolation trait after the microbiome is removed. I suggest that the answer is squarely in the latter category. A speciation geneticist will tend to find the nuclear genes underlying speciation. The speciation microbiologist will tend to find the microbes that cause speciation. Combining these approaches together will give the life sciences a more holistic understanding how new animal and plant species arise. We are not yet there, but the horizon is unfolding for the community to watch and join.

In attendance at this workshop were stellar scientists including Margaret Mcfall-Ngai, Ford Doolittle, John Archiblad, Thomas Bosch, Andrew Roger, Rob Beiko, etc. It appears that Dalhousie and Kiel Universities are on a path to merge their graduate training programs into a beacon of symbiosis scholarship. Keep an eye out for it - it will be a good example to follow.

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