I had the good fortune of speaking at the American Genetics Association president’s symposium last week. There were many things to enjoy at this conference. First the location was Bainbridge Island just across the bay from downtown Seattle. Second, despite a striking diversity of particular subfields all speakers shared a broad interest in chromosomal evolution and were interested in sharing ideas and approaches and finding ways to move the field forward. There was also relative equality in the distribution of sexes with 10 female and 12 male speakers. Likewise the poster session featured 14 female and 16 male presenters. Finally, if the talks and posters weren’t sufficient then the opportunity to socialize and discuss science certainly were. All meals were catered and there were no concurrent sessions. This meant that you got to spend 2 ½ days sharing ideas and learning from each other without ever missing a talk or poster. So many thanks to Katie Piechel for putting together such an awesome conference! Below are a few highlights that I found particularly exciting.
Jeremy Searle from Cornell gave a great talk covering hybrid zones and speciation in mice and shrews. He spoke quite a bit about the amazing variation in chromosome number that he has found on the island of Madeira. This hit home for me because in my analysis of chromosome number it ends up that some of the fastest rates that I have observed are driven largely by the amazing diversity that I observe in species from the Canary islands just south of Madeira. Its always reassuring when you see the same kind of patterns in such distant parts of the tree of life.
Karen Miga from University of California, Santa Cruz discussed her work trying to shed light on the dark side of the genome. To be honest I’m not sure how to use the work that she has done but I think that her work represents a huge step forward in giving us some usable characterization of the nature of centromeric regions of chromosomes. For a lay introduction to her work you can check out her blog post at Scientific American or if you're feeling a bit braver here is a nice article on a preprint server.
Beatriz Vicoso who recently took a position at the Institute of Science and Technology in Austria talked about some of the amazing work that she did while she was a postdoc with Doris Bachtrog. Specifically the suprising discovery that heteromorphic sex chromosomes are not always a trap. Indeed many of the mysterious attributes of the dot chromosome in Drosophila now make sense once we realize that it spent millions of years as a sex chromosome. To read about this check out their article in PLOS Biology.