Evolutionary biologists are driven by a desire to understand the staggering diversity of life on Earth, its history of change through time and the processes that have driven such change. DNA sequences are the fundamental material upon which evolutionary change is wrought and each organism’s genome carries the legacies of its evolutionary history. By sequencing the genomes of different organisms, we can use their similarities and differences to reconstruct historical relationships, known as phylogenies, and to test hypotheses about the evolutionary past. Phylogenies are of fundamental importance to fields as diverse as conservation, behavior, forensics, agriculture, and medicine. However, reconstructing phylogenies can be a very difficult and time-consuming task. Many genomes are enormous, genes can evolve in wildly different ways, and the number of possible shapes to the Tree of Life is beyond astronomical (literally). Therefore, modern phylogenetic analyses require serious computational power. In this talk, we will explore how phylogenies can help solve crimes of intentional disease transmission, uncover the ancient and hidden world in the soils of Amazonian rainforests, and resolve the ‘turtle identity crisis’. We will also talk about how none of this would be possible without biologists who are also interested in mathematics, programming, and who have access to really big computers.
LSU Department of Biological Sciences