Storytelling facilitated both the emergence of the scientific discipline and the evolution of human intelligence. At least, that’s what Prof. Enrico Coen argues. A former President of the genetics society, Prof. Coen, from the John Innes Centre, has two articles in the recent Heredity Special issue commemorating 100 years of The Genetics Society. In the first, he creatively recounts the rise of Homo geneticus, and in the second he delves into the history and importance of human storytelling. Tune in to hear a grand tale of genetics and discover how your research could benefit from a little more storytelling.
We tend to think of science as objective, but as with any human endeavour it is fraught with biases: cognitive, technical, personal and cultural. Interestingly, it turns out that inheritance can also be biased, with the transmission of genes often displaying anything but ‘fair’ segregation. As the Genetics Society celebrates its centenary, join president Prof. Laurence Hurst as he discusses 100 years of bias in genetics and evolution, how he fell in love with the field (despite poor first impressions), his thoughts on science education, and his hopes for a playful future for the study of genetics and evolution.
Associated article: A century of bias in genetics and evolution
May 2019 Episodes:
Is evolution faster in the tropics?
Why do the tropics contain such a diversity of life? In this episode, we explore this question with Matt Orton and Prof. Sarah Adamowicz from the University of Guelph. Listen to them discuss their recent research paper – Is molecular evolution faster in the tropics? – and hear about the challenge it poses to the long standing Evolutionary Speed Hypothesis.
Associated article: Is molecular evolution faster in the tropics?
Orchids in the clouds
This episode explores the genetic structuring of orchids in the cloud rainforests of Ecuador. While we mainly think of orchids as ornamental houseplants, many wild species are vulnerable to poaching or deforestation. In a recent Heredity paper, Professor José Iriondo (King Juan Carlos University, Madrid) and colleagues investigated the fine-scale genetic structure of an unassuming orchid in a regenerating patch of Ecuadorian rainforest—working in a landscape unlike any other, they have discovered a mysterious population dynamic that so far eludes explanation, but does highlight vital conservation considerations for this iconic family of flowering plants.
Complex fine-scale spatial genetic structure in Epidendrum rhopalostele: an epiphytic orchid.
April 2019 Episode:
From the days of Darwin and Mendel, studies on colouration have played a vital role in deciphering the mechanisms of natural selection and genetic heredity. While this work has encompassed many species from all branches of the tree of life, a particularly noteworthy one is the incredibly colour diverse grove snail, Cepaea nemoralis. In this special double-whammy episode, we discuss two recent Heredity papers on this unassuming, yet beautiful, little mollusc by Dr Angus Davison (University of Nottingham) and colleagues. The first takes a quantitative approach to determining the colour phenotypes of over 1000 grove snails, while the second investigates the underlying genetics of this colour polymorphism. The insights gleaned from these studies have important implications for how we conduct studies on animal colouration, and also challenge long held assumptions about the evolution and role of supergenes.
March 2019 episodes:
Animal colouration is fascinating! Conspicuously affected by natural selection, an animal’s colour pattern can impact many aspects of its life: from how well it can attract a mate to its success at avoiding predation. Of course, they can also be incredibly beautiful. In this episode, we hear from Dr Jake Morris (University College London – UCL) about his recent research investigating the genetic basis of wing patterns in the postman butterfly (Heliconius melpomene): a delicate, visually striking, toxic mimic found across South and Central America.
How repeatable is evolution? This is one of the biggest questions in modern day biology, and until recently it seemed unanswerable. However, the growing number of known cases of parallel evolution—where two closely related organism adapt to an environment in the same way—is revealing just how predictable evolution can be. In this episode, Dr Allie Graham (Oregon State University) and Dr Kevin McCracken (University of Miami) share their recent work looking at the convergent molecular adaptation of three species of South American ducks to low oxygen, high altitude environments.
A fascinating mosaic has recently been discovered in the Mediterranean, and we’re not talking about the famous tiled art. Here, we’re talking about a genetic mosaic in the Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis) that stretches for over 600 km along the North African coast. What led to this incredibly large hybrid zone? Dr Nicolas Bierne from the University of Montpellier explains all in this episode of the Heredity Podcast.
The associated scientific article is published in Nature: The hidden side of a major marine biogeographic boundary: a wide mosaic hybrid zone at the Atlantic–Mediterranean divide reveals the complex interaction between natural and genetic barriers in mussels.
February 2019 episodes:
When we think of Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection, the mind conjures images of exotic voyages to distant lands. However, in reality, Darwin’s theory was more heavily influenced by his observations on the process of domestication, which he made in his own backyard. The evolution of domestic animals still fascinates biologists, and in this episode of the Heredity Podcast Dr Amir Fallahshahroudi discusses his recent research on the genetic basis of domestication in the chicken. This work has focused in on the pattern of gene expression in the pituitary gland, a small organ that lies between the brain and the rest of the body: could this ‘master gland’ of hormone production also be controlling the development of the ‘domestic phenotype’?
While there is little doubt that the grey wolf is one of the world’s most iconic species, it is equally true that it is one of the world’s most reviled. This later sentiment has seen them extirpated from much of their former habitat. However, in a few places, wolves are making a comeback. In this episode of the Heredity Podcast, Sarah Hendricks, Dr Rena M. Schweizer and Prof. Robert Wayne discuss their recent research exploring the genetic history of naturally re-established wolf populations in the US states of Oregon and Washington: their discovery that some of these populations represent a genetic mixing of two distinct ecotypes presents challenges for current conservation policy in the country, and raises the question: what wolf belongs where?
Access all the recent and archived podcasts from the Heredity website.