Favorite Talks from Evolution2014

Schyler’s Pick
The identification and characterization of a behavioral isolation gene, Amanda Moehring

Out of all the talks at Evolution, this one stood out in my eyes. I don’t even think it was the amazing science behind the talk (yes that was there too!), but the style of presentation. Dr. Moehring has mastered the art of giving a great scientific presentation. While this talk was pretty removed from my immediate interests, I was able to follow the science because of the conversational nature of the talk. She walked the audience through an amazing story.

On top of the amazing style of presentation her research was really incredible. Female preference was examined in two species of Drosophila, melanogaster and simulans. They found that female D. melanogaster would mate with male D. simulans, but D. simulans females refused to mate with D. melanogaster males. Reproductive isolation through behavioral traits is thought to be an early step in the speciation process. Amazingly, they were able to identify the gene underlying this trait and named it Its not you, its me. They found this gene played a role in microtubule production, not behavior! This impacts the structural development in the brain, and impacts female choosiness in mating.

The Evolution meeting definitely allowed me to geek out for the week and think about the amazing complexity at all levels of diversity.

Emily’s Picks
I thought the presidential addresses from SSB and SSE were the most thought provoking talks I went to. (I’m sure ASN‘s was great too but the SNPits team had dinner that night.)

Lacey Knowles gave the SSB President’s Address. Knowles said she was going to give a controversial talk but I didn’t think that it was. She said the community of evolutionary biologists is over wanting big data coming off of next-generation sequencing platforms and instead is transitioning towards a period of trying to interpret big data. She argued that developing best practices for interpretation of genomic data was where the community was headed. Knowles also argued that some phylogenetics questions may need fewer loci than you think. She presented data that gave the same tree with 50 and 200 anonymous loci. I would argue however, that loci number depends on question. Maybe I was extra dialed in to the gene tree-species tree talks this year, but there seemed to be more ILS talks than usual; a scenario that may require many more loci for correct inference. Finally, I particularly appreciated Knowles call for standardization of RADseq data as an oncoming challenge. Her argument was that for the community to maximize RADseq data (versus only a single lab benefiting from the data), that there may need to be standards for generation and RADtag storage archiving. This would allow other labs to add their RAD dataset to an older dataset and increase inference, similar to how GenBank sequence data has allowed greater inference from the ability to download and add the sequence data from other projects to your own. With that in mind, bear researchers, digest with PstI!

Mohamed Noor gave a wonderful SSE Presidential Address highlighting both his research, good and bad presentation form, and made up his own conference talk drinking game
; however, I found the most thought provoking portion of the talk was the introduction into what professional societies do for their members. Specifically, I thought it was interesting to note that journal fees help pay for society functions such as student travel awards. With a continual call from the community for open access, Noor noted that the society will need to weigh the benefits between income and expenditures. Noor also noted that as the field of evolutionary biology grows and produces more PhDs, training for diverse jobs may need to factor into both training programs and the functions of professional societies. I liked Noor’s talk because of these thought provoking topics that both the profession and our societies will need to answer in the near future.

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