Evolution and Function of Metazoan Genome Organization
As a postdoc, I discovered, using new methods that I developed, that genome organization at the chromosomal scale is conserved in multiple animal phyla from before the Precambrian radiation of animal forms. My primary research goal for the next five years is to uncover the biological explanation for this unexpected conservation. The observed conservation may be due to selection acting to preserve an unknown functional role of large-scale genome organization (for example in the regulation of gene expression). Preliminary results support this hypothesis, in that they show poor agreement with the predictions of a slowly changing neutral model. My previous research resulted in effective computational tools for comparing the large-scale organization of two genomes. The next phase will require tools for making systematic comparisons of multiple genome organizations to models of genome evolution in a defined statistical framework. Comparative analyses of genome sequences have now yieled fundamental insights in many areas of biology, and my goal is to open this new dimension of genome sequence space -- chromosome scale organization -- to a similar range of applications, from phytogenetics to the identification of novel functional features. My group will also take advantage of falling large-scale sequencing costs to generate data sets to probe the dynamics of genome organization on short and long evolutionary time scales. We are beginning to take advantage of the extremely high degree of genetic diversity in the amphioxus population to characterize the spectrum of genome-organization-changing mutations there. We are improving genome assemblies and developing a strategy for rapid efficient genetic mapping for application to phyla not represented among species approved for genome sequencing.
Arnold O. Beckman exemplifies the meaning of the word humanitarian. Combined with his unwavering enthusiasm for life, his keen sense of humor and his strong moral and ethical principles, he is a national icon.