Genes or Gene Regulation? Understanding the Evolutionary Genetics of Flightlessness in Birds

Scott Edwards


Dr. Scott Edwards; Harvard University

January 19 at 12:20pm in VBI

Hosted by Dr. F. Schubot


Dr. Scott Edwards is a distinguished scientist at Harvard University. He received his B.A. from Harvard, his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and his postdoctoral training at the University of Florida. Dr. Edwards’ research program uses interdisciplinary approaches that incorporate field, museum, and population genetic studies to understand the basis of avian diversity. He has published scientific articles in fields ranging from evolution, ecology, behavior, population genetics, and molecular genetics. In addition, he has written numerous articles for general audiences. His work has attracted major funding support from NSF throughout his career. Dr. Edwards has been very active in student mentoring and education, received numerous grants for student diversity, mentoring, and conference/workshop activities. Among his many awards in recognition of his scientific work and educational activities, he has been elected to the US National Academy of Sciences and named Fellow of both the American Association of Science and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Flightless birds present an enigma: we know that birds evolved from feathered dinosaurs and are one of only two groups of vertebrates that can sustain powered flight, so why, more importantly, how did some birds lose this unique capacity? In this talk I will review the evolution of birds from dinosaur ancestors and discuss several groups of birds that have lost the ability to fly.  I will then reveal new data on one group of flightless birds, the ratites - which include well known species such as ostriches, emu, kiwis and rheas – and show how our recent genomics work is providing unprecedented detail on the molecular details illustrating how these birds lost the ability to fly. I show that, rather than changing the sequence of specific genes that might cause skeletal changes leading to flight, ratites seem to have changed the sequence of noncoding regulators of important developmental genes. This result suggest that gene regulation, rather than changes in gene sequence, are more important in morphological transformations such as loss of flight.

Edwards et al_2015.pdf Feather Development Genes and Associated Regulatory Innovation Predate the Origin of Dinosauria
Edwards et al 2017.pdf Winter storms drive rapid phenotypic, regulatory, and genomic shifts in the green anole lizard
Edwards Flyer

This seminar will NOT be livestreamed or recorded.