David M. Kingsley – Fishing for the Secrets of Stickleback and Human Evolution

Kingsley FEL 6.24“Fishing for the Secrets of Stickleback and Human Evolution”
David M. Kingsley, Stanford University; Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Friday, June 24, 2016, 8 – 9pm
Lillie Auditorium
Lectures are free and open to the public.

Introduction by Alejandro Sanchez Alvarado, MBL Fellow; Investigator, Stower Institute for Medical Research; Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator

Lecture Abstract:

How do new traits evolve in nature? Can we find particular genes and mutations that underlie dramatic differences in colors, or skeletal structures, or the nervous system in wild species? Are evolutionary mechanisms predictable, or are there many different ways of evolving new traits? For many years the answers to such questions were largely unknown. However, in recent years, new methods have begun to reveal the detailed genetic and genomic basis of evolutionary change in natural species. Dr. Kingsley will describe the insights that have come from his pioneering genetic and genomic studies of very young fish species that adapted to many new environments around the world. He will also illustrate how the lessons learned from this system can now be applied to many other organisms, including studies of modern human variation, and the search for key mutations that have contributed to the unique traits and capabilities that have evolved in the human lineage.

David Kingsley uses stickleback fish, mice, and humans to identify the molecular mechanisms underlying evolution of new traits in vertebrates. He grew up in Iowa, with a childhood love of dinosaurs, natural history museums, and fishing on the Mississippi River and Boundary Waters Area of Minnesota. He moved east for his undergraduate and graduate work, receiving a B.S. in Biology from Yale in 1981, and a Ph.D. in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1986. Having seen the power of genetic approaches to solve classic problems in biology, he began applying new genetic and molecular methods to the study of vertebrate morphological traits in 1987. As a postdoc at the National Cancer Institute, he began molecular studies of classical mouse mutations that altered the formation and patterning of skeletal tissue. He established his own laboratory in 1991, as one of the initial faculty members in the newly formed Department of Developmental Biology at Stanford. Dr. Kingsley’s genetic studies of classic mouse skeletal mutations subsequently identified key signaling molecules and membrane transporters that are used by vertebrates to control skeletal patterning and susceptibility to arthritis. In 1998, his laboratory also began using genetic approaches to study how skeletal structures evolve in natural species, using genetic crosses between divergent stickleback fish populations that have evolved since widespread melting of glaciers 10,000 years ago. These pioneering studies have revealed how dramatic morphological changes can evolve in nature while still preserving viability and fitness. Interestingly, the same mechanisms tend to be used repeatedly when similar traits evolve in many different vertebrates, now making it possible to now study one of the most interesting biological problems of all: what is the molecular basis of becoming human? Dr. Kingsley has received many awards for his research, including election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2005, the Conklin Medal for distinguished research in Developmental Biology in 2009, and election to the National Academy of Sciences in 2011. He is currently Professor of Developmental Biology at Stanford, and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.