Genetic conflicts: The usual suspects and beyond

Harmit Malik
October 3, 2013

The eukaryotic cell has been traditionally viewed as an exquisitely designed symbiotic network of genes in co-evolutionary equilibrium. However, several  fundamental features of our genes and genomes belie the expectation that they have reached an optimal functional state. Instead, a view is emerging that eukaryotic genomes harbor a conglomerate of different genetic entities, each with their own agenda and each locked in conflict with other genetic entities for evolutionary dominance. My lab is interested in understanding two forms of genetic conflict. The first is extrinsic (between genomes) conflicts that shape genes involved in host-pathogen interactions and shape both host and viral evolution, shaping oat species'  susceptibility to disease. The second is intrinsic (within genome) conflicts that shape eukaryotic genome architecture. I will describe our studies on an ancient conflict between centromeric proteins and DNA, two essential components of the chromosome segregation apparatus in eukaryotes. Recurrent episodes of this conflict may have driven post zygotic reproductive isolation between incipient species, providing one possible solution to Darwin's "mystery of mysteries".