Catalysis Meeting

An integrative understanding of the evolution of genomic imprinting

PI(s): Jason Wolf (University of Bath)
Hamish Spencer (University of Otago (New Zealand))
Francisco Ubeda (University of Tennessee-Knoxville)
Start Date: 1-May-2011
End Date: 30-Apr-2012
Keywords: epigenetic, evolutionary genetics, evolutionary theory, selfish genes, disease

Why are some genes imprinted, where the maternally or paternally inherited copy is preferentially expressed? This phenomenon has been considered an evolutionary paradox because it may render gene expression haploid, negating the apparent advantages of diploidy. Unfortunately, a proliferation of seemingly contradictory evolutionary explanations aimed at resolving this paradox has made it difficult for empiricists to interpret the patterns of imprinting they observe. Clarifying these matters, with both theorists and empiricists participating in a critical evaluation, should improve theories that explain current experimental results and open up new avenues of research in both communities of researchers. The catalysis meeting “Evolution of Imprinting” is designed as an arena for such cross talk: we have invited a diversity of theorists, as well as empiricists examining imprinting at multiple levels – molecules to behaviors – in a variety of taxa – plants, insects, fish and mammals. Our goals are (i) to find shared themes across theories and thereby integrate theoretical and empirical perspectives, (ii) to evaluate current hypotheses and motivate future directions in the development of theory and, finally, (iii) to generate strong tests that can formally differentiate among competing ideas. Understanding imprinting will resolve more than evolutionary paradoxes, however. Imprinting has been characterized as crucial in resource acquisition during pregnancy and in the manifestation of several behavioral disorders, as well as a variety of cancers. Thus, improving our theories of imprinting and broadening their applicability will push the boundaries of evolutionary medicine.