Integrative Genomics background

At the Executive Committee Meeting of IUBS which took place at the end of August 2008 in Paris, I reported on the Darwin 200 programme which I had organized and received a unanimous approval by the Members of the Committee. At the same meeting, I addressed the recent explosive developments in the fields of Genomics (e.g., those involving the sequencing of individual human genomes) and Evolution. The IUBS Executive Committee Members highlighted the great interest for scientists, not only for those working in genomics and evolution, but also for other biology-related disciplines as well as prospects for development in applied domains, such as medicine and health, agriculture, food and nutrition, and environmental management. The IUBS Executive Committee unanimously decided that a proposal for an IUBS Programme dealing with “Genomics and Evolution” be presented to the General Assembly in Cape Town in 2009. Moreover, the Committee decided that an Ad Hoc Planning Committee be established with me as the Chairman. Also, advantage was to be taken of the “Darwin 200 Symposium” in Venice in May 2009 to establish this Committee and organize its work with the task to develop a proposal to be submitted to the next General Assembly in Cape Town. This was done and a Planning Committee was set up comprising Professor Werner Arber, Professor Gary Felselfeld, Professor Takashi Gojobori, and Professor Daniel Hartl, with myself as the Chairman. The proposal of having a major line of activity of IUBS on the subject of Genomics and Evolution was presented and approved by the Executive Committee Meeting which took place during the IUBS General Assembly of Cape Town in October 2009.

Being in charge of the programme, I present now two proposals that are outlined in the following pages. The first one concerns “The Role of Chance in Evolution: 40 years after Monod’s book”, a Workshop organized by Professor Werner Arber, Takashi Gojobori, Daniel Hartl and myself. Very briefly, this is a meeting (sponsored by both IUBS and the Istituto per gli Studi Filosofici in Naples), which is an in-depth extension of the “Basic Issues in Evolution” Meeting that took place in Venice within the framework of the Darwin 200 Symposium. The second proposal concerns an International Workshop on “Structural and functional diversity of eukaryotic genomes” organized by Professor Jiri Faikul, Edward Trifonov and Thomas Bettecken. This Workshop will deal with both structural and functional genomics, concentrating on chromatin structure and gene expression. Obviously, the two proposals coincide with the two topics previously discussed at IUBS Meetings, namely Genomics and Evolution.

At this point I would like to make some more general comments which I intend to expand and circulate to all Executive Committee Members in the near future. The first comment is that the Program on Genomics and Evolution is the natural follow-up of the Darwin 200 series of Symposia, because they also dealt with Genomes and Evolution. The second comment is that I think that this Program should be called “Integrative Genomics”. This would stress the continuity with the Integrative Biology Programs already supported by IUBS. There is, however, in my opinion a deeper reason for my proposal. Indeed, Genomics now covers several areas. First of all, obviously, there is the area of genome sequencing with more and more sophisticated methods that provide faster and less expensive results. Second, there is a primary analysis of the sequences in terms of  identifying gene, integrated viral sequences etc. Third, comparative genomics provides clues to evolutionary conservation of sequences possibly playing regulatory roles. Fourth, metogenomics, the sequencing of the genomes of populations of bacteria from the ocean and the soil, most of which cannot be cultivated; a phylogenetic analysis of the results helps in identifying the bacterial species that are present in the mixed populations. Fifth, one can mention all the applications to medicine (resulting from comparison of individual genomes) and agriculture. What could be called Integrative Genomics is understanding the features of genome in connection with the biology (morphology, physiology etc.) and the environment of the species under consideration. For example, the enormous differences in genome structure of unicellular organisms (many of them being parasitic and agents of diseases) cannot be understood in the absence of detailed knowledge of the biology of the organisms. This is a field in which the molecular side needs the organismic side of biology in order to reach an understanding. What is just sketched here is a program in which most, or all, fields of expertise that are present within IUBS (and also within other BioUnions with which we wish to collaborate) can converge. No doubt, other programs along more classical ones should also be pursued, but this new Program is worth the encouragement it received from the Executive Committee.

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