I’m in Chicago for the biennial Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon). This is always (well, it’s my second time) a fun one, with topics ranging from origins of life to proposed interplanetary missions. I took the train from Whitefish, Montana, which is a bit of an adventure in itself.
I co-chaired the second session on Major Transitions in Evolution with Will Ratcliff, which went very well. There was one cancellation in each of the two Major Transitions sessions (yer dead to me, Erik), but Cristian Solari bravely filled in for one with about 15 minutes notice. Zach Adam told us about some of the oldest known eukaryotic fossils (from Montana!), Laura Landweber about the ridiculously complex genetics of ciliates, and Margie Kinnersley about her current work on the origin of eukaryotes. Rick Michod, my former Ph.D. advisor, presented some mostly theoretical work on cycles of cooperation and conflict in Major Transitions (he prefers “Evolutionary Transitions in Individuality”; I tend to use them interchangeably, even though they’re not exactly the same thing), and his Ph.D. student Zach Grochau-Wright related the evolutionary history of genes involved in cellular differentiation in (at least) Volvox carteri. Will Ratcliff and his Ph.D. student Jennifer Pentz reported the latest developments in the snowflake yeast story. Peter Conlin talked about his collaboration with Will Ratcliff, an experimental test of Rick Michod’s idea of fitness decoupling during Major Transitions. Finally, Eric Libby reported some theoretical work on the evolution of primitive multicellular developmental cycles.
After the talks, I was happy to enjoy a glass of wine with my Ph.D. advisor, my former labmate, and members of the Michod and Ratcliff labs while we watched Chicago win the Stanley Cup.