2011 Stephen J. O’Brien Award

Posted by on Jul 28, 2011 in Awards | 0 comments

At their July 2011 meeting, the Council of the American Genetic Association granted the annual Stephen J. O’Brien Award for best student-authored article published in Journal of Heredity’s 2010 volume. The award honors Dr. Stephen J. O’Brien, Chief of the National Cancer Institute’s Laboratory of Genomic Diversity and head of the Section of Genetics, who served as Editor-In-Chief for the Journal from 1987-2007.

An Award Committee made up of the current Editor-In-Chief, Scott Baker, an Associate Editor, Jill Slattery, and a Council member, Michael Clegg, evaluated all eligible articles. Several high quality papers were considered, and the Council voted to present the award to Dr. Craig Lowe for his article, Endangered Species Hold Clues to Human Evolution (supervisor, Prof David Haussler)

The Award Committee, in presenting their recommendation to Council, had the following comments:

“This article is novel, and displays an impressive application of a bioinformatic approach to an interesting evolutionary genomics question with a nice conservation spin. A good attempt to show the importance of comparative genomics to interpreting human evolution. Encompasses multiple aspects in genome structure and evolution. Nice study!”

The award includes a $1,000 prize, as well as a one-year AGA membership and subscription to the Journal of Heredity.

Summary of winning article and author biography

Endangered Species Hold Clues to Human Evolution
Craig B. Lowe, Gill Bejerano, Sofie R. Salama,and David Haussler
JHered 101(4): 437-447

This study showed that 18 functional regions in the human genome are the result of retroposon insertions. The retroposon that gave rise to these functional elements was quickly inactivated in the mammalian ancestor, and all traces of it have been lost due to neutral decay. However, the tuatara has maintained a near-ancestral version of this retroposon in its extant genome, which allows us to connect the 18 human elements to the evolutionary events that created them. We proposed that conservation efforts over more than 100 years may not have only prevented the tuatara from going extinct but could have preserved our ability to understand the evolutionary history of functional elements in the human genome. It appears that species with historically low population sizes are more likely to harbor ancient mobile elements for long periods of time and in near-ancestral states, making these species indispensable in understanding the evolutionary origin of functional elements in the human genome. This study offers an example of how species conservation is important for understanding our own past.

Craig Lowe received a B.S. degree in Computer Science from Cornell University. He went on to study comparative genomics under Professor David Haussler at UC Santa Cruz. His graduate research focused on understanding the evolution of gene regulatory elements during vertebrate evolution. In 2010 he received his Ph.D. for a thesis describing the contribution of mobile elements to regulatory innovations that occurred during the last 500 million years of human evolution. Craig is currently performing postdoctoral studies under Professor David Kingsley at Stanford. He is interested in further understanding the molecular basis of adaptation in vertebrates.

Craig Lowe <lowec@stanford.edu>