06/11/2013 - 12:00 - Auditori PRBB

Evolution of genomes by copy and paste

Scientific sessions, CRG Group Leader Seminars

Toni Gabaldón

Comparative Genomics Group, Bioinformatics and Genomics Programme, CRG

Genomes are shaped in many ways during the course of evolution. Whereas point mutations can alter the function of already existing functional genomic elements, gene duplications or genetic transfers from other organisms immediately generate novel genetic material upon which selection can act. Phylogenomics provides us with the tools to study such events and interrogate their possible impacts. In this talk I will provide an overview of several of our findings related to the genome evolution of fungal organisms, for which hundreds of genomes are now available. Contrary to general expectations for eukaryotes and for a group of organisms with a cell wall and no phagocitosis, we found that horizontal gene transfer is common in fungi. This process has mediated the acquisition of important phenotypic innovations and has often involved the transfer of entire gene clusters between phylogenetically distant lineages. Gene duplication in the form of family expansions, or duplication of entire genomes has also played a major role in the evolution of fungi, and I will show several examples of relevance for pathogenic species. Finally, hybridization between different species is emerging as a common evolutionary mechanism that readily generates new species and innovative phenotypes through the combination of entire genetic complements. Altogether the emerging picture is that fungi present highly plastic genomes prone to rapid adaptations through the duplication of existing genetic material or the lateral acquisition of genes.

Short biography

I'm a biochemist and molecular biologist by training (Universities of Valencia and Mainz). After several years working on a molecular biology lab, and attracted by the emerging fields of genomics and bioinformatics, I moved to the comparative genomics group of Martijn Huynen in 2001 (NCMLS, The Netherlands). In 2005, I obtained a PhD in the Medical Sciences (Radbout University Nijmegen), and then moved, thanks to an EMBO fellowship, to the bioinformatics department at CIPF (Valencia). In September 2008 I started my own group in the Bioinformatics and Genomics department at CRG. In 2013 I have been awarded an ERC starting grant and an ICREA research professorship. I have always used an evolutionary perspective to address different biological questions. I am not only interested in understanding how complex biological systems work, but also how they have come to be as they are.