Imagining Phylogenetics and Recombination as Art

DAFAbout the Artist:
Daniel Friedman is a 1st year Ph.D. student in the Ecology and Evolution program. Working from the Gordon lab, he mainly studies the evolution of collective behavior in ants. Other research interests include fractals, burritos, and metaphors. Contact: dfri@stanford.edu.

 

1. Phylogenetics
Ever since “I Think…”, the idea of a bifurcating tree of species relations has guided evolutionary biology. This piece of paper with ink on it plays with the idea of an “evolutionary I”, styled as an evolving Eye. Whether we perform molecular studies on the ontogenetic role of Pax6, or psychophysical explorations into the Self, we are confronted with questions of homology and convergence. Our time-reversible phylogenetic algorithms, so designed for computational simplicity, only contribute to this problem of post hoc ergo propter hoc – “after this, therefore because of this.” The Modern Synthesis was clearly a rEvolutionary moment – now are we ready for a Post-Modern Synthesis?
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2. Recombination
DNA recombination is key to many biological processes. Recombination between homologous chromosomes during meiosis creates novel combinations of alleles, and to many, is the teleological “Why?” of Sex. But the reach of recombination goes far, far beyond Sex. Recombination between alleles of the same locus allows a kaleidoscope of DNA error-correcting mechanisms to proceed. And over evolutionary time scales, “errors” in recombination provide large structural creativities in the genome, such as duplication, deletions, and inversions. Recombination during immune cell maturation allows the human body to recognize an essentially infinite cohort of potential invaders. And now that recombination has been mechanistically deconvoluted, derived technologies facilitate guided DNA editing in vitro and in vivo . Recombination is molecular innovation embodied, a topological whirligig, and the workhorse of the genome.
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