Ecological Genomics 2014 Themes

I just got back from Kansas State University’s 12th Ecological Genomics Symposium (EcoGen2014, this year with Twitter hashtag #ecogensymp). I covered the themes from last year’s meeting and wanted to do the same this year. The themes I keyed in on from 2014 included: the importance of phenotyping and how genomics informs managed species.

Phenotypes Matter
The symposium started off with a call for precisely phenotyping our study systems. Specifically, as careful and detailed phenotypes are collected, they may be more accurately linked to genomic variation, including variation of small effect when dense marker maps are made. The call for careful phenotyping came from researchers working in model or semi-model systems (Peromyscus, Arabidopsis, and stickleback) that have reference genomes if not full resequencing projects available to their research groups. However, other researchers without these resources echoed the call by saying that beginning points of their ecological genomics projects are to sequence genomes for their species of interest so that they may work up to fine trait mapping. Finally, Poland acknowledged that phenotyping is not always done because of the time and expense needed to phenotype. To get around this problem, his team converts farm equipment into high throughput phenotyping machines so they can link genotypes and phenotypes from experimental plots based on GPS locations! This highlighted the importance of thinking creatively about both what to phenotype and how to do it in difficult research systems.

Management Genomics
At first I was tempted to say that several conservation genomics projects were presented, but upon reflection all of the “conservation” talks were really about managed/harvested species. Several talks focused on transcriptional responses of species to changing environments due to climate change. The environments included higher temperature, changes in water cycling/aridification, land degradation, urbanization, and for fish changes in dissolved oxygen due to increased carbon dioxide loads in the oceans. Place emphasized how individual-level metabolism changed under stressful environmental conditions, where fish used more energy for body maintenance and less for reproduction, an important consideration for managed species when setting harvest limits. Pavey also emphasized the use of genomics for conservation, detailing a study of American eels (Anguilla rostrata) and how genomics must be considered before translocations. Finally, Poland discussed how genomics could be applied to contemporary domestication/directed selection of novel crops to feed a growing world population.

As always, thanks to the organizers, speakers, and attendees for a great weekend of ecological genomics!

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