April 26, 2010
UI experts coordinate special Journal of Heredity issue on evolution of sex
Why is sexual reproduction so common, and why did sex evolve in the first place?
That question was center-stage at a 2009 University of Iowa symposium attended by about 130 researchers from around the world, and now it will be reflected in the publication of a series of articles in the Journal of Heredity, whose March/April 2010 supplementary issue is devoted to papers authored by meeting participants.
Symposium planners and UI biology professors John Logsdon and Maurine Neiman note that all meeting attendees were invited to contribute to the issue, which is sponsored by the journal's publisher, the American Genetic Association. The result was 17 peer-reviewed original articles written by 40 authors representing 21 institutions across five countries.
"The whole issue is devoted to sex," Logsdon said. "The last time the journal did a similar issue on this topic was 17 years ago. We want to inform people both inside and outside the research field that this is still an exciting and growing area of investigation."
Highlights of the special issue include historical treatments of the ideas and people central to the sex debate, and studies of the often unusual sexual biology of organisms ranging from digital to microbial to multicellular animals, plants and fungi.
Taking place from May 31 to June 3, 2009, at the University of Iowa, the first symposium held by the UI's Roy J. Carver Center for Comparative Genomics and organized by UI Biology faculty was titled "Evolution of Sex & Recombination: In Theory & In Practice." Logsdon and Neiman said that the goal was to bring together scientists taking both empirical and theoretical approaches to a wide range of problems in the evolution of sexual reproduction and recombination.
Scientists addressed the “queen of problems” in evolutionary biology -- why sexual reproduction is so common, and why sex evolved in the first place. Participants using diverse approaches presented data and theory that provided important steps toward answering this question, and showcased systems from across the tree of life. Logsdon and Neiman said that many organisms featured in the special issue highlight the fact that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction when it comes to the weird and wonderful world of sexual biology.
The meeting also highlighted areas where progress is still needed. Empirical data from natural systems that directly address the maintenance of sex, for example, are relatively rare, but are also the only data that can truly resolve the “queen of problems.”
"The meeting brought these issues to the fore, and generated resolve to expand future research efforts," Logsdon said. "Altogether, the journal issue represents a timely and seminal collection of contributions from current and emerging leaders that illuminate both how far the field has come and where it needs to go."
The entire symposium issue will be available for free access on the Journal of Heredity website starting on April 26 at http://jhered.oxfordjournals.org/
The Department of Biology is part of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
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