Monday, June 28, 2010

Evolution 2010: Monday

Well, today was better than yesterday, mostly because I had some interesting ideas for my own work. These conferences really get my brain juices flowing.

I started out in the bioinformatics session, where I learned all about new goodies coming in various software packages. The new MEGA 5 sounds especially fun.

Next I attended a session on sexual selection where we watched movies of "sexual cannibalism" in crickets and watched scientists demonstrate bird mating displays. That was somewhat disturbing (the mating dance, not the movies).

After lunch, I went to Doug Theobald's talk. I said hello to him before his talk, but he was suffering from a cold, and I was severely jetlagged, so conversation was sparse. But pleasant enough. Otherwise, if you read his Nature paper, then you know what he talked about. Hey, I just discovered that if you google "theobald test common ancestry," my blog is the first thing that pops up. I guess that's cool. Or sad, depending on your perspective.

The next talk by Jim Starrett was on spider silk, and I learned a lot. For example, trapdoor spiders are convergent on that trapdoor lifestyle, and there's lots of duplicate spidroin genes (that make the spider silk proteins). For different trapdoor silks in different species, there are different versions of spidroin. Very interesting.

My final session of the day was on genomics and adaptation, and it seemed to have a bunch of talks on coral. I was mostly interested in the talk by Steve Vollmer on innate immunity in corals. Turns out they don't seem to use the Toll pathway, even though they have a toll-like receptor. These receptors are used by a wide variety of animals (like sea urchins, fruit flies, and vertebrates) as a means of recognizing foreign organisms. In nematodes and apparently cnidarians like coral, a toll-like receptor is present but doesn't appear to be used in immunity. What's really interesting is the amazing diversity of toll-like receptors. The nematode worm C. elegans has a single version of the receptor, urchins have hundreds, and vertebrates have on the order of ten. A very interesting protein family that I'd like to hear more about.

And so ends day three.

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