Saturday, February 28, 2015

Communicating The Relevance of Human Evolution

This weekend I'm at a fantastic working group sponsored by NESCent :

I'm taking lots of notes, and will share the outcomes and goals afterwards. While I'm here, I'm curious:

What was your "Aha" moment related to understanding that humans evolve? Or, did you never have a single moment?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sperm should evolve to make female meiosis fair by Brandvain & Coop

Sperm and eggs are the vessicles for passing on genetic material to the next generation. It is often easy to think about motile sperm competing with each other to fertilize a finite set of eggs. It is easy to see a sperm with it's swimmy little tail, and think of how many swimmy little things could compete.You can imagine the faster sperm "winning", or the evolution of cooperation among sperm to get to the egg first.

By ScienceGenetics (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
By ScienceGenetics (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

It is harder to think about competition among eggs. To do this, we need need to take a step back and think not about competition between eggs, but about competition between the genetic content during egg formation. Competition in egg formation comes at the level of producing the egg, where you might have some alleles (variants of a gene) that distort inheritance so that instead of having a 50:50 chance of inheriting alleleA versus alleleB, the probability might be distorted to 90:10. This kind of distortion happens, but it doesn't happen all the time. Why?

To answer that, we need to remember that sperm and egg do not evolve independently.

Brandvain and Coop investigate co-evolution fo sperm and egg in a series of models: 

Evolution. 2015 Feb 9. doi: 10.1111/evo.12621.
Sperm should evolve to make female meiosis fair.
Brandvain Y, Coop G.

The title gives away their major result: Sperm evolve to enforce fairness in female meiosis.

Check it out. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

A little piece of plastic to help with shots.

A little over a year ago when we took the LittleBear (~3 yrs at the time) in to the doctor, it was time for one of her vaccinations. I was prepared to help distract her for the shot, and was surprised when the doctor didn't ask me to help. Instead she got the shot ready, then pulled out a piece of yellow plastic. As we all watched (me in slight horror that I should be doing something because, right, kids hate shots, and what is going to happen, and is she going to scream, and why aren't you asking me to hold her down??), the doctor pressed the piece of plastic to LittleBear's arm, then with us all watching, gave her the shot, then removed the plastic. No crying. No fighting. No fussing. Our doctor put a bandage on, and we were on our way home.

It. was. awesome.

This amazing bit of plastic is called a "ShotBlocker." It is smooth plastic on one side, and a mini "bed of nails" of plastic on the other. The stimulation from the tiny pieces of plastic confuse the skin, and prevent the body from interpreting the pain of the shot. Fantastic!

This year, for four-year-old shots at a new pediatrician, I took in the ShotBlocker we had purchased, and asked the doctor if we could use it. He said it was no problem, and shared it with his nursing staff. This time, however, I showed Little Bear how it would feel on her skin, then let her practice several times on me. By the time the nurse came with the vaccination, Little Bear was prepared to show how it worked,  the nurse used it without incident, and we went home. This nurse was a little rougher than people in our previous clinic, and it was also three shots this trip, so there were a few tears (literally, a countable number of them), but no fighting, screaming, or extreme distress.

I looked it up, and there is some evidence that ShotBlocker may reduce perceived pain by parents and nurses (with low difficulty of use reported by nurses), but not necessarily lower reported pain by children (see here).

So, after the first use, I was a convert. We've used it a few more times, and I will say, that at the minimum, it doesn't increase pain, and may increase distraction. I'd be really curious to see if it decreases anxiety. I remember the anxiety of feeling the poke being so much worse than the pain. I will have to report back with more data when we go for our next vaccine visit. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Welcome Shawn Rupp, Biology Master's Student

The Wilson Sayres lab welcomes Shawn Rupp as a newly accepted MS student in Biology! 

Shawn Rupp, Biology Master's Student. 
Shawn is a genetic researcher with experience performing RNA-seq analyses. His research interests include studying sex biased expression in reptiles, particularly those that are native to Arizona. Spring 2015-present 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Postdocs: Responsibility is a two-way street

I have responsibilities to my lab members, and my expectations of lab members listed on my website: I just came across this list of responsibilities on the Arizona State University page for postdoctoral scholars, and I love it.

The responsibilities of the postdoctoral scholars are defined:
Responsibilities Of Postdoctoral Scholars
Postdoctoral scholars are expected to carry out the research plan and fulfill the goals established with the supervising faculty member; to assist the faculty member in fulfilling the requirements of the grant, contract or project in a timely manner; to communicate regularly with the faculty member; and to notify the faculty member of any change in research plans. Postdoctoral scholars funded through institutional training grants or fellowships may have additional responsibilities identified by the funding source.

And, just as important, so too are the responsibilities of the supervising faculty described:
Responsibilities Of The Supervising Faculty MemberThe supervising faculty member is responsible for developing, in concert with the postdoctoral scholar, a plan of research and the goals, objectives and expectations of the training program. Faculty supervisors are expected to regularly and frequently communicate with postdoctoral scholars; provide oral or written evaluations as they deem appropriate; and offer mentoring, including career advice and job placement assistance. The faculty mentor should also ensure that postdoctoral scholars have an environment adequate for fulfilling their responsibilities.
It is just so nice to see these bi-directional responsibilities also formalized at the University level. Way to go ASU!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Welcome Kimberly Olney, Research Technician

The Wilson Sayres lab welcomes Kimberly Olney as a Research Technician!

Kimberly Olney, BS, Research Technician. Biologist with experience in data analysis and laboratory procedures. Research practice in investigating molecular phylogenetics to improve taxonomic descriptions between populations and species.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Population genomics of sex chromosome evolution at ASHG 2014

In the Fall I presented a talk entitled, Population genomics of sex chromosome evolution at the 2014 meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG). I put the slides up on figshare:

Y'know what the best part about putting slides up on figshare? When someone asks if I'm willing to share my slides, I can easily say, "yes!" and point them to the figshare link.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Welcome Pooja Narang, Assistant Research Scientist

The Wilson Sayres lab welcomes Dr. Pooja Narang as an Assistant Research Scientist!

Pooja received her PhD degree from Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, India in the field of Computational Chemistry. She has four years of postdoctoral research experience in computational data-analysis, bioinformatics, molecular modeling and in silico drug discovery. Her research interests include understanding the male mutation bias in mammals and understanding evolution of sex chromosomes and their relationship to diseases like cancerDec 2014-present

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mindlin Undergraduate Mentored Researchers selected

Congratulations to Bich (Hien) Vu and Shawn Rupp for being selected as Mindlin Foundation Undergraduate Mentored Research awardees in the Wilson Sayres lab! From the Mindlin Foundation website:

This program is intended to support promising undergraduates in the sciences or engineering, in a mentored research project that introduces the student to academic research. 
The structure of the research plan should involve a mentored research experience, wherein the undergraduate student is responsible for addressing an appropriate self-contained question relevant to the mentor’s larger ongoing study.

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to mentor such wonderful undergraduate students! We are so thankful to the Mindlin Foundation for recognizing their potential, and for the value of their research contributions. 

Hien Vu, Senior
Dr. Wilson Sayres, faculty in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, and Bich (Hien) Vu, a senior at Arizona State University majoring in Biological Sciences (Genetics, Cell and Developmental Biology), have been selected to receive Mindlin Foundation funding in support of their proposal, "Patterns of evolution across vertebrate sex determining genes."

Shawn Rupp, Junior
Dr. Wilson Sayres, faculty in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, and Shawn Rupp, a junior majoring in Biological Sciences (Genetics, Cell and Developmental Biology), have been selected to receive Mindlin Foundation funding in support of their proposal, "Characterizing sex-biased gene expression in the green anole."

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fall 2014 Lightning Journal Club - Part 1

We have a variety of formats for lab meeting. One of them is a lightening journal club, where each person shares one paper from an assigned journal, including one question and one comment about the paper. This allows us to get a snapshot of research that is interesting to people in the lab. By posting it here, we can also allow the space for continued discussion. I have not edited the Comments or Questions that were sent to me by the members of the lab. The "Lab Thoughts" are our brief comments from lab meeting in response to the paper/question. This is the first group of papers we discussed at lab meeting last week:

"Big data and other challenges in the quest for orthologs"
Sonnhammer et al., 2014
It does seem, that until the computational capacities catch up to the demand that a viable temporary solution is analyzing smaller, easily-managed sets of data and compiling the results. However, this would result in a decreased confidence in the determined relationships. 
To work around computational demands in sequence analysis the Similarity Matrix of Protein project (SIMAP) utilized user-volunteered computing. They have used this method for the past 10 years, but are now returning to ‘in-house’ computations; what changed that would warrant this shift? There are still high computational demands, so after 10 years what are the drawbacks of user-volunteered computing that would cause them to return to in-house computations? (pg. 2994)
Lab Thoughts:
Perhaps the computing is taking up more RAM than it was in the past. So, previously user-volunteered computers would be sufficient for the analysis, but now there is need for higher-RAM processors.

BMC Bioinformatics
"MoTeX-II: Structured MoTif extraction from large-scale datasets"
Pissis, 2014
Comment:I find it impressive that this tool is able to speed up current motif extraction by about 7 times. 
Question: How well would this program run on a normal computer? Could it be run efficiently using the cloud?
Lab Thoughts:From the paper, "We implemented MoTeX-II in three flavors: a standard CPU version; an OpenMP version; and an MPI version. " Thus, it seems like the program can definitely run on the CPU capacity of a desktop, but there are also versions that require more computing power.

British Journal of Cancer
"Notch-induced transcription factors are predictive of survival and 5-fluorouracil response in colorectal cancer patients"
Candy et al., 2014
It was interesting that atypical Notch signaling seems to be a factor in chemotherapy treatment resistance. 
What is "Notch" in Notch-induced transcription factors?
Lab Thoughts: Notch refers to the phenotype that was observed when mutations in this pathway were originally detected (notches in the wings of fruit flies). More about Notch signaling pathway here:

"A Discovery Resource of Rare Copy Number Variations in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder"
Prasad et al., 2014
Many of the mutations in the genes came from the mother which would explain the higher prevalence of ASD in males, some were deletions and others were additions, there were similar findings paternally at a lesser degree. 
Which genes overlap between females and males with ASD?
Lab Thoughts:
This paper doesn't analyze differences in risk between males and females. There is a sex-bias in risk for autism, and the paper even analyzes drastically different numbers of male and female patients (571 males and 125 females). Understanding the sex-bias in autism may help inform on potential mechanisms.

"Bayesian inference of shared recombination hotspots between humans and chimpanzees"
Wang and Rannala, 2014
The article concludes that there are areas on different chromosomes in both humans and chimpanzees that regularly undergo recombination – “hotspots”. Although these hotspots aren’t universal, there are many shared hotspots between the two. This relates directly to our research on X-Y recombination, as we analyze many different organisms (including humans and chimpanzees) for shared recombination areas, and this tells us that one group has already found links that we can verify. 
What is the Baseyian method?
Lab Thoughts:
Bayesian refers to a type of statistical modeling. Statistics can usually take three major forms: Frequentists, Bayesians, and Likelihoodists (although some argue this is just a flavor of Bayesian statistics).  A brief discussion of the difference between Bayesian and Frequentist statisticians by Hochester: And, an XKCD cartoon: