Understanding Our Era of Biological Evolution: Eugene V. Koonin Shares His Knowledge


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Aug 12 2020 45 mins   8

Computational biologist and evolutionary genomics researcher Eugene Koonin touches on several timely topics about biology, evolution, and what computational biology can teach us.

In this podcast, he discusses

  • How the molecular clock works as a null hypothesis and enables deviation studies and a better understanding of functional and ecological changes,
  • How comparative genomics provides specialized ways to understand similarities and differences and explains this in terms of coronaviruses, and
  • What are the mechanics of evolution, theories of the beginnings of life, and the coevolution of viruses.

Eugene V. Koonin is a Senior Investigator at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and an NIH Distinguished Investigator and works in evolutionary systems biology. This includes genomic comparative analysis of everything from the human genome to coronaviruses. He shares his vast knowledge with listeners and explains how the molecular clock functions in a computational role. He gives concrete ways this can be understood, such as comparing the same gene in an animal and a human genome.

He explains the basics of comparative genomics, a key advancement of our era of biological evolution study, and how it allows for an alignment for scientists to maximize similarity comparisons. They can then compare nucleotide sequences directly with similar life forms and make conclusions about their relationships and functional predictions. He explains how this works using coronaviruses as an example: anything shared between highly virulent strains but is not present in milder strains gives researchers vital information.

He also discusses various elements of evolution like punctuated evolution and the math of speciation. He also describes theories of the beginnings of life and Darwin’s Last Universal Common Ancestor, or LUCA, as well as how the first genomes might have evolved from RNA and ribosomes that catalyzed various reactions including nucleotide polymerization. Finally, he addresses advancements in his field on the near horizon.

For more, search for him in Google Scholar and see his NCBI web page: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/research/groups/koonin/.

Available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/2Os0myK