Research News

Scientists visit UB for evolutionary genomics event

Overview of the first-ever Great Lakes Evolutionary Genomics Symposium held in the Center for the Arts on UB's North Campus.

The first-ever Great Lakes Evolutionary Genomics Symposium was held in the Center for the Arts on UB's North Campus. Photo: Marie Saitou

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published June 4, 2019

headshot of Omer Gokcumen.
“The ultimate goal here is to create a strong community around the broad theme of evolutionary genomics in our region.”
Omer Gokcumen, assistant professor
Department of Biological Sciences

UB biologists hosted the first-ever Great Lakes Evolutionary Genomics Symposium on May 31, highlighting the Department of Biological Sciences’ growing investment in this area of research.

The event brought more than 100 scientists from the U.S. and Canada to Buffalo, with participants coming from across upstate New York, Indiana, Michigan and the Toronto metropolitan region. Attendees ranged from undergraduate students to postdoctoral researchers to tenured faculty members.

“People were very interested in this,” says lead organizer Omer Gokcumen, assistant professor of biological sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences. “We knew it would be a good event, and I was expecting maybe 50 people, but we have 120 signed up, including researchers from institutions that are exceptionally strong internationally in this field.”

Evolutionary genomics is the study of how genetic changes shape the evolution of animals, plants and other organisms over time.

UB’s Department of Biological Sciences is actively growing its research group in this area, with seven faculty members now working in the field. These scientists have published frequently in high-profile journals on topics such as human and primate evolution and connections to human disease, polar bear and brown bear evolution, the evolution of size of mammals and its relation to cancer, and the evolution of plants ranging from the carnivorous bladderwort to the coffee plant.

Recent hires include Assistant Professor and RENEW Institute scientist Trevor Krabbenhoft, who studies fish genome evolution, and Vincent Lynch, who will join the biological sciences department this fall and researches a variety of interesting questions such as woolly mammoth paleogenomics and the evolution of mammalian pregnancy.

Winners of the Golden Buffalo presentation awards at the symposium. Photo: Marie Saitou

The Great Lakes Evolutionary Genomics Symposium gave UB students and faculty the chance to hear from other scientists in the region and to showcase research happening at UB.

Taking place in the Center for the Arts on the North Campus, the event included a poster session and talks on topics such as the radical structural evolution of genomes in flowering plant mitochondria, and modeling the potential of gene drives for rodent management.

“It’s an important opportunity for students and postdocs in particular to meet faculty members and other researchers working in the field,” Gokcumen says. “Face time is great. A lot of the people who came, we actually knew of their names from papers they’ve written, but we had never met before in person.

“We made the decision that we would have postdocs and PhD candidates as our main presenters, which gives them an opportunity to build their reputation in the field. This is really important for their careers,” he notes. “The ultimate goal here is to create a strong community around the broad theme of evolutionary genomics in our region.”