Evolutionary Cell Biology

Coordinators: Michael Lynch, Rob Phillips, and Shelley Sazer

Scientific Advisors: Frances Brodsky, Frank Jülicher, Michael Lässig, Nancy Moran, Sarah Teichmann

Despite the dramatic recent advances in cell biology and evolutionary biology, remarkably little interaction exists between the two fields. Because all evolutionary change ultimately begins with alterations at the cellular level, this deficiency represents a major gap in biological understanding. The goal of this program is to assemble a diverse set of scientists - from cell biology, evolutionary biology, biophysics, biochemistry, and applied mathematics - with interdisciplinary interests, in a setting that will facilitate long-lasting collaborative research and the establishment of a formal field of evolutionary cell biology.

With single-cell biological inquiries now becoming commonplace, with commonalities in the mathematical approaches being employed by biophysicists and population geneticists, and with massive amounts of comparative data available from the various 'omics fields, the time is ripe for major progress in our understanding of evolution at the cellular level. This program will bring together theorists and experimentalists to explore issues revolving around the mechanisms of evolution, namely: 1) how subcellular features originate and diversify; 2)  how such processes are dictated by constraints at the population-genetic, biophysical, and biochemical levels; and 3) how future research programs ought to be designed to resolve outstanding issues.

Examples of some of the questions to be addressed are: How do transcription factors and their binding sites coevolve, and how does this depend on the number of genes serviced? What mechanisms underlie the evolution of the multimeric states of proteins and higher-order complex molecular machines? How do the steps of pathways/networks in metabolism, signal transduction, gene regulation, toxin-antitoxin systems, intracellular transport mechanisms, etc., evolve? How are the components of the various internal features of eukaryotic cells (e.g., vesicles, nuclear envelope, cytoskeleton, molecular motors) interrelated in a phylogenetic sense? Are the complex features of cells simple outcomes of semi-neutral processes and mutational biases, or is complexity directly selected for?

Weekly activities will include informal talks, with ample time for impromptu discussion, analysis of comparative data, etc. In close connection with the overall thematic program, the first five weeks of the program (August 3 to September 4, 2015) will involve a workshop in cell biological experimentation associated with the third Santa Barbara Advanced School of Quantitative Biology.