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K-State Today

October 22, 2012



From roundworms and prairie grasses: University's Ecological Genomics Institute marks growth of research field with 10th annual symposium

By Communications and Marketing

How does one start a totally new field of science? Just ask Kansas State University's Loretta Johnson, associate professor, and Michael Herman, professor, both in the Division of Biology.

Ten years ago, Johnson and Herman teamed up to start research in the new area of ecological genomics. To celebrate launching this new field of science, the Kansas State University Ecological Genomics Institute is hosting a special 10th anniversary symposium from Oct. 26-28 at the Kansas City Marriott on the Plaza.

The development of ecological genomics came from seemingly unrelated research programs. Herman's research had focused on the genetics of development in a roundworm called Caenorhabditis elegans, and Johnson's research had centered on the ecology and root systems of prairie grasses.

"We both saw that by collaborating and learning from one another we could forge a new area to learn how ecological interactions are dictated by organisms' genomes, or the collection of all its genes," Herman said.

The last decade has seen many breakthroughs and innovations inspired by learning from and interacting with national and international scientists who presented their advanced research discoveries in this area. The symposium will highlight renowned speakers who are involved in solving one of today's most pressing problems -- predicting the responses of individual organisms, communities and ecosystems as a result of changes to the environment -- from the ecological level all the way down to the genetic level.

"By its very nature, ecological genomics is an interdisciplinary field, requiring a multidisciplinary approach that combines field studies with laboratory experiments to identify how genes function in organisms in natural environments," Johnson said. "This knowledge helps scientists predict organismal responses in the face of global environmental change."

The symposium has built a reputation for excellence in advancing the relatively new field of ecological genomics. Speakers, their institution and presentation at the 2012 Ecological Genomics Symposium include:

* Jenn A. Brisson, the University of Nebraska, "The genetic basis of wing polymorphism in pea aphids";

* Bill Cresko, University of Oregon, "Exploring evolution genome-wide in the threespine stickleback";

* Scott V. Edwards, Harvard University, "Genomic, geographic and temporal tracking of a rapidly evolving host-pathogen system";

* Martin E. Feder, University of Chicago, and Jack C. Schultz, University of Missouri, "10 years of Ecological Genomics: Where have we gone and where are we going?";

* Loretta Johnson, Kansas State University, "Phenotypic and genetic variation of a keystone grass across the Great Plains' precipitation gradient";

* Jan Kammenga, Wageningen University, "Ecological and evolutionary genomics of C. elegans";

* Thomas Mitchell-Olds, Duke University, "A novel gain of function polymorphism controlling complex traits and fitness in nature";

* Jeanne M. Serb, Iowa State University, "Molecular ecology and adaptation of visual photopigments in scallops";

* Emilie Snell-Rood, University of Minnesota, "The transcriptomics of nutritional plasticity in horned beetles";

* John (Jack) Werren, University of Rochester, "Using Nasonia (and its microbes) to investigate the genomics of adaptation and speciation";

* Chris Wheat, Stockholm University, "Ecological Genomics: Emerging general insights from butterflies";

* Thomas G. Whitham, Northern Arizona University, "The role of community genetics in providing solutions to climate change, conserving biodiversity, and habitat destruction: Genetic-based ecosystem restoration"; and

* Patricia J. Wittkopp, University of Michigan, "Genomic sources of regulatory variation: Mutation, polymorphism, and divergence."

With headquarters at the university's Division of Biology, the Ecological Genomics Institute is co-directed by Herman and Johnson and was established as a Targeted Excellence program through the provost's office. Faculty from five distinct disciplines at the university collaboratively research challenges in ecological genomics and work together to achieve the goals of the Institute.

For more information about the Ecological Genomics Institute visit www.ecogen.ksu.edu or contact Johnson at 785-532-6921 or johnson@k-state.edu, or Herman at 785-532-6741 or mherman@k-state.edu.

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