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Lab Philosophy

Building the New Biology using Experimental Evolutionary Genomics

The reductionist biology that dominated the second half of the 20th Century is dying. The mortal wound was inflicted by genomics, when it revealed widespread functional genetic variation segregating in sexual populations. There is simply too much important variation genome-wide than can be encompassed in simple reductionist analysis couched in terms of simple pathways, a few large-effect substitutions, and other conceptual sleights that were popular in the last century. While reductionist biology made significant contributions, and will continue to solve some puzzles, its day as a paradigm-setting approach is now done. Bioinformatics and systems biology approaches have already begun to change biology.

In the laboratories of Rose, Mueller, and Greer at UC Irvine’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, we seek to build a new biology. The biology we are building is based on genomics, experimental evolution, large-scale bioinformatic analysis, and new kinds of evolutionary genetic theory. We don’t claim that we now have definitive solutions for the problems of genomically reconceived 21st Century biology. We do, however, claim to have and are engaged in developing powerful tools that have already begun the rebuilding of biology in our time.

In the past, we chiefly focused on aging. While we continue to pursue some lines of research on aging, we have recently broadened our range of research topics. We are now also interested in speciation, development, convergent evolution, social behavior, cardiology, vision, and the role of effective population size. Experimental evolution remains our chief manipulative tool, but now genomics undergirds all our research. Fortunately, we already have genome-wide sequence data for thirty of our hundreds of populations developed over decades of experimental evolution, thanks to an ongoing collaboration with Joseph L. Graves, Jr. (The Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, Greensboro, NC). We plan to sequence more of our populations soon, in some cases during the course of evolutionary change.

As self-conscious pioneers striking out in a new direction, we don’t bask in support from the reductionist biological establishment. But we are fortunate that our experimental methods readily yield powerful results that even those committed to the defunct ideas of 20th Century biology appreciate, eventually. This is possible because we maintain a large phylogeny of outbred populations with massive replication, compared to all other labs working with sexual eukaryotes that are known to us. We also design our experiments using a scale of data collection that permits powerful hypothesis testing despite the multiple-inference statistical problems facing genomes that vary at a million locations.

Working with us is not for the faint of heart or the intellectually conservative. But for those who are willing to face bracing scientific challenges, we feel that our laboratories provide a tremendously supportive environment and powerful biological resources. We welcome your interest, and hope that the rest of our web pages help you to determine if joining in our research would be a good step for you. We also welcome the collaboration of fellow scientists who are happy to engage in the bursting of favored hypotheses and models in service to the advance of biology.

Very best wishes,

Michael R. Rose                                Laurence D. Mueller                       Lee F. Greer


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