Biological Integration Institute for Mechanisms of Cellular Evolution

We aim to answer some of the most pressing questions in the field of evolutionary cell biology, including how cells of all kinds work and evolve.

The key to every biological problem must finally be sought in the cell, for every living organism is, or at some time has been, a cell.

E. B. Wilson “The Cell in Development and Inheritance,” 1925

Research

3-d representation of a cell

Phylogenetic census of cellular traits and their costs

This project will construct an atlas of the biology of cells through a range of new investigative techniques, including the exploration of the internal anatomy of cells through 3D reconstructions. Comparative genomics, spatial proteomics, microscopy and bioenergetic analyses will be used to further assess the biological costs of constructing and operating an array of cellular features.

Evolutionary theory for cellular traits

Cellular attributes commonly follow systematic, quantitative relationships with cell size that transcend species boundaries, leading to patterns called cell biological scaling laws. This project investigates how these relationships apply across different forms of cellular life — such as how factors like cell growth rates or the numbers of mitochondria inside cells scale with cell size — and seeks to understand the mechanisms underlying the patterns from first principles.

Evolutionary divergence of complex molecular machines

One of the great mysteries of evolutionary cell biology concerns the mechanisms by which complex molecular machines with highly conserved functions can diverge structurally across the Tree of Life. This investigation considers two of the central molecular machines contained within all cells: ATP synthase, the machine that produces ATP by transporting protons across membranes; and ribosomes, which translate all messenger RNAs into proteins.

The simplest ciliates and euglena in their natural habitat. 3d image

Molecular underpinnings of cellular evolution

This project focuses on evolution in action through experimental lab studies with a broad range of unicellular organisms. Among other things, the work will utilize systems that enable “barcoding” of different microbial strains so that novel mutations and subtle changes in cell physiology can be tracked through time as the cells respond to variables like temperature, population size and food availability.

Publications

Open access to ‘The Origins of Cellular Architecture’

We have taken on one of the last uncharted fields in evolution: integrating evolutionary biology with cell biology. This sequel to The Origins of Genome Architecture brings evolutionary theory to bear on a diversity of observations on the functional and structural features of cells.

Training

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Seminar series

Monthly seminars include a mixture of local, national and international speakers chosen for their alignment with evolutionary cell biology, particularly in relation to the research of institute trainees.

Journal club

Participants include faculty, postdoc, graduate and undergraduate student attendees. Here, we discuss papers from cell biology, microbiology, systems biology, biophysics and population genetics, including both empirical and theoretical studies. At the outset of each semester, participants vote on a set of 4-week topics and then assemble into topic groups. Many of the themes are organized around the institute’s research projects and other key unsolved problems in evolutionary cell biology. Non-ASU guest participants often engage in the journal club via Zoom. Thematic sessions generated and driven by non-ASU members are welcome.

Annual symposium and lecture

An important part of establishing evolutionary cell biology as a new field is to develop national and international connections among biologists working on topics at the interface of evolution and cell biology. To this end, we are establishing an annual evolutionary cell biology symposium to be held in the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University. By inviting cell and evolutionary biologists from the national/international community, working on different themes, we hope to encourage the formation of new collaborations. Coinciding with our annual symposium, we will host an annual public lecture featuring a well-known evolutionary cell biologist who can effectively and passionately communicate to lay audiences.

Glendale Community College exchange

We aim to establish a research exchange program with Glendale Community College, a local campus servicing 14,000 students. Collaboration with this institution will help foster local, sustained opportunities for under-represented minority recruitment into STEM fields.

GCC has a biotechnology program where students learn techniques such as PCR, Western blotting, DNA sequencing and cell culture. We will host five GCC biotechnology interns every year in the institute, providing each with a stipend, embedding them in all institute activities and providing them with the opportunity to work in labs focused on understanding cellular evolution. Institute faculty members, postdocs or graduate students will also present their work to biotechnology students at the GCC campus at least once per term.

This program supports our overarching goals of training the next generation of students in evolutionary cell biology and increasing the diversity of students recruited into our labs. By providing sustained support and a real path for under-represented minority students to enter science research, this program presents a clear path from community college to university undergraduate and graduate degrees and beyond.

About

Woman in lab wearing lab coat, gloves and mask conducting experiment.

The National Science Foundation awarded $12.5 million to ASU for the development of a new Biological Integration Institute for Mechanisms of Cellular Evolution. The institute is part of an NSF program that encourages collaborative teams to investigate questions that cross disciplines within and beyond biology.

ASU’s new institute focuses on the emergent field of evolutionary cell biology, an area of study that the institute’s principal investigator, Professor Michael Lynch, has helped pioneer. This intensely interdisciplinary undertaking will draw on tools from mathematics, physics, chemistry, biophysics, structural biology, cell biology and evolution.

Learn more about the Biodesign Institute at ASU, our host institution.

People

Leadership

The executive committee is comprised of four founding members and one ad hoc position that rotates annually. The institute operates in a fully collaborative way. Its responsibilities include research collaboration, communication evaluation, budget oversight and reporting.

Our executive committee members include:

Our team

Our scientists are interested in researching evolutionary cellular biology. We are collaborative, so our projects involve a minimum of two complementary areas of expertise.

Our team members include:

profile picture for James Touhy

James Touhy

Director, Biotechnology Program, Glendale Community College

Advisory groups

External advisory committee members:

Shelly Copley
Professor, University of Colorado-Boulder

Nels Elde
Associate Professor, University of Utah

Lillian Fritz-Laylin
Assistant Professor, University of Massachusetts

Purificación López-García
Professor, Paris-Sud University

Patricia Wittkopp
Professor, University of Michigan

Internal advisory committee members:

Our internal advisory committeehelps the institute to engage as many Arizona State University researchers as possible, where many of the educational activities take place. Members also play a key role in evaluating ongoing research, outreach and educational activities and in prioritizing new research projects.

Banu Ozkan
Faculty Associate, Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution
Professor, Department of Physics

Susanne Pfeifer
Faculty Associate, Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution
Assistant Professor, School of Life Sciences

Stephanie Forrest
Director, Biodesign Center for Biocomputing, Security and Society
Professor, School of Computingand Augmented Intelligence

Gillian Gile
Associate Faculty, Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics
Associate Professor, School of Life Sciences

Rizal Hariadi
Faculty Member, Biodesign Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics
Assistant Professor, Department of Physics

Jobs

Beakers on on table and a persion's hand using an eyedropper to put content on a microscope slide

We are a research institute focused on the integration of two scientific fields: evolution and cell biology. Our team strives to be a diverse, collaborative team, comprised of scientists, technicians, postdoctoral research scholars, graduate and undergraduate research assistants.

We anticipate upcoming opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

Contact

For questions about our research, training, collaborations or jobs, email our Program Manager Joshua Hoskinson you can also reach him by phone at 602-543-4595.