Fishing for the Secrets of Stickleback and Human Evolution
David Kingsley is a professor of developmental biology at the Stanford University School of Medicine and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His genetic studies of classic mouse skeletal mutations have identified key signaling molecules and membrane transporters used by vertebrates to control skeletal patterning and susceptibility to arthritis. In 1998 he and postdoc Katie Peichel began using genetic mapping strategies to analyze the molecular basis of evolutionary change in natural populations of threespine sticklebacks. This work has subsequently revealed detailed genomic mechanisms that underlie evolution of new traits not only in fish, but also in many other organisms, including humans.
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.
Abstract: The genetic and molecular mechanisms that underlie the amazing diversity of living species have been uncertain and contentious. We have been using stickleback fish as a model system to reveal how new traits evolve in natural populations. These fish have undergone widespread and repeated evolution in postglacial lakes and streams in the Northern Hemisphere. Dramatically different morphological forms can still be crossed, making it possible to map the specific genes and DNA changes that underlie recurrent adaptation to new environments. Our studies show that new traits can evolve in natural populations through changes in the expression of key developmental control genes. Although the same control genes are essential for normal viability, regulatory changes make it possible for natural fish populations to evolve dramatic new phenotypes while preserving overall fitness. This principle also applies more generally. We have found that remarkably similar genetic mechanisms underlie the evolution of new forms of sticklebacks, changes in hair color in human populations, and increased brain size in the human lineage. With the advent of large-scale DNA sequencing, specific mutations controlling evolutionary change can now be identified and recreated in model systems, providing new insights into evolution of many different organisms, including ourselves.
This Provost’s Lecture, co-sponsored by the Eighth International Conference on Stickleback Behavior and Evolution, Department of Ecology and Evolution, College of Arts and Sciences, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, will be held on Tuesday, July 28, at 4:30 pm in the Charles B. Wang Center Theater.