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PopGroup42

PopGroup42

Just before Christmas I went to the 42nd Population Genetics Group conference (“PopGroup”) in Cardiff. This is my favourite scientific meeting and is a real institution in the UK. Its not really population genetics as understood today, although it includes popgen, rather evolutionary genetics in a broad sense. I’ve always thought that this title just reflected its 1960s origins. The meeting is midsize to smallish (~180 people), very low stress and very interactive with good chances to talk to people in the extended coffee and bar sessions. Its a great place for new PhD students to give a first talk, its also a great place to stay up all night drinking and talking science- I recommend it to everyone.

A few factoids about talks I remember
Mark Blaxter (Edinburgh) gave an excellent plenary. He talked about the organismal distribution of operons, trans-splicing (and how cool nematodes are). There is clearly a lot of basic biology to be learned from the genomics of diverse animals (rather than just more mammals and flies). NextGen sequencing is now ridiculously cheap and powerful.
Nancy Irwin (York) elegantly showed that there is a lot of endangered tube-nosed bat diversity (New Guinea, Australia and surrounds) that is revealed when careful sampling and molecular studies are carried out.
Si Creer (Bangor) demonstrated* that 18S rDNA PCR of coastal meiofauna from mud cores followed by 454 sequencing (a) gave a very good quantitative analysis of community composition (b) nematodes are VERY diverse.
Andrew King (Cardiff) talked about the unsuspected genetic diversity (cryptic species) within UK earthworms, and Pete Kille (Cardiff) talked about evolutionary genetics of adaptation of earthworms to heavy metal sites. Good mentions of Darwin’s work on earthworms of course.
Alan Hodgkinson (Sussex) investigated intronic sites with three segregating alleles. They are in excess, and simultaneous mutation to two new alleles was suggested.
Lel Eory (Edinburgh) compared selective constraints in hominids and murids and showed human 4-fold degenerate sites were under more selective constraint than those in mouse, or even Drosophila, despite humans’ lower Ne.
Joanna Parmley (Radbout University, Netherlands) talked about selection on codons represented by low abundance tRNAs in the human genome. Genes with lots of these rare codons are conserved between human and mouse despite lack of primary sequence conservation- it may be regulatory control.
Mark Jobling (plenary, Leicester) gave a very nice review of human evolutionary genetics. He also mentioned that the sex chromosomes were originally called X and Y for algebraic reasons, which I didn’t know.
Francois Balloux (plenary, Imperial College) also talked about human evolutionary genetics and spoke well about expansion population genetics, also some evidence for selection on mtDNA in explaining patterns of diversity.
Apologies to those whose work I have misrepresented and/or ignored due to not paying enough attention.

Mike Bruford (Cardiff) deserves congratulations for organising an excellent meeting. The next popgroup was confirmed in Liverpool Jan 2010, followed by Hull (gulp) in Jan 2011. populationgeneticsgroup.org is the website to keep an eye on.

* For full-disclosure I was (sort-of) involved in this work, although I can take little credit.

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