Processes underpining the emergence of biological complexity and diversity
Our third theme focuses on the underlying genetic, cellular and developmental mechanisms that drive and constrain evolutionary change with the ultimate aim of understanding the mechanisms that underlie the evolution of novel characteristics across the tree of life.
While the study of evolutionary processes through much of the twentieth century relied on classic comparative work, new technologies are bringing the possibility of probing the mechanisms underlying evolutionary changes at the molecular level and of comparing these across diverse organisms. The methods are giving unprecedented opportunities to understand the processes underlying biological evolution and to bridge traditionally disparate fields of biology.
New approaches such as sequencing entire genomes from across the tree of life, characterising and comparing the transcriptional states of individual cells and manipulating the expression of key genes can all be harnessed to study the basis of evolutionary novelties and to identify the genetic and developmental basis of innovation or stagnation/constraint.
Some of the work we are doing to understand the mechanisms behind the evolution of novel characters include.
- The evolution of the larval skeleton in sea urchins and bristle stars
- The genomic basis of the evolution of the fivefold symmetry of echinoderms
- How genomes are involved in speciation in yeasts
- The evolution of sexual ornaments in stalk eyed flies
- The evolution of the serially homologous appendages of arthropods
- The evolution of cooperation between species