Evogenomics Focus Group
S. Blair Hedges, Co-Chair
Department of Biology
Pennsylvania State University
James A. Lake, Co-Chair
Molecular Biology Institute
University of California, Los Angeles
The purpose of the Evogenomics Focus Group is to coordinate, combine, and enhance research efforts involving evolutionary genomics across the multiple disciplines and institutions represented in the astrobiology community. Evolutionary analysis of the complete genomes of organisms has greatly advanced our understanding of how life originated, adapted to diverse environments, and increased in complexity on this planet and, in turn, these studies increase of understanding of the potential for, and distribution of, life elsewhere in the Universe.
The Evogenomics Focus Group met in April 2012 during the ABSCICON meeting, at Georgia Tech University, Atlanta, Georgia. The focus group sponsored a two-day symposium, Early Evolution of Life. The symposium was held in the largest meeting room and was very well attended. The topics included molecular evolution before the last universal common ancestor, genome dynamics across the tree of life, hot spots in the coevolution of life and Earth, biosignatures and paleoenvironments in a 3.5 billion-year-old geological formation, the timing of eukaryote diversification, a new molecular clock method, and the Ediacaran oxygenation event and rise of animals. There was excellent discussion after the talks and in a special discussion session after the last speaker. What was especially rewarding was the interchange of ideas among geologists, geophysicists, molecular evolutionists, and paleontologists during the symposium. This is something that would occur only at an astrobiology meeting. In a separate lunchtime meeting of the focus group and other persons, attendees discussed ways to network among those astrobiologists with interest in evolutionary genomics for the purpose of having additional symposia or virtual meetings, and for assembling groups of researchers to collaborate on grant proposals.
The Evogenomics Focus Group met in June 2007 at the Annual meeting of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution in Halifax, Canada. The Focus Group sponsored symposium, “Eukaryotic and Prokaryotic Genome Beginnings”, was one of the highlights, if not the highlight, of the meeting. Speakers from the US and Europe described genomic, developmental, and paleontological studies that spanned the course of evolution on the Earth from the earliest biochemistries, to the beginnings of extant prokaryotes, to the earliest prokaryotic precursors of eukaryotes and their organelles, and to the evolution of multicellular life. Others put these changes into context by relating them to molecular processes, gene transfers and symbioses, and to microbial ecosystems. These presentations were capped with a summary and discussion of the search for existing or ancient water on Mars and the prospect of habitability.