Revealing the natural history of yeast

The following is a guest post by Matthew Vandermeulen, PhD, at the University at Buffalo. Matthew studies the regulation of responses to environmental variation; he is on Twitter as @mvandermeulen.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae, baker’s and brewer’s yeastmay be one organism that could contend with dogs for the title of man’s best friend.  Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been associated with human culture for thousands of years for use in baking and making alcoholic beverages. In modern times, yeast has become a model to study cell and molecular biology: it was the first eukaryote to have a fully sequenced genome, and it has been reprogrammed to produce pharmaceuticals.  The economic and cultural value of S. cerevisiae has led to debates on what type of evolutionary processes have shaped this organism’s natural history — but to this day we don’t know where, exactly, yeast was first “domesticated” for human uses. 

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2022 Molecular Ecology Prize goes to Kerstin Johannesson, for building big science to study a tiny marine snail

Multi-angle views of a shell of Littorina saxitilis (Wikimedia: H Zell)

The Molecular Ecology Prize Committee has announced the 2022 recipient of the award, which recognizes an outstanding scientist who has made significant contributions to the still-young field of molecular ecology:

The Molecular Ecology Prize Committee is pleased to announce that the 2022 Molecular Ecology prize has been awarded to Dr. Kerstin Johannesson, Professor of Marine Ecology, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Trained as a marine ecologist, her research over the past 40 years has focussed on understanding how marine organisms become adapted to their environment. Towards this goal, she performed pioneering molecular ecology work that fully integrated ecological and molecular approaches to study the sea snail, Littorina saxatilis, which she developed into a model species. Her work has inspired numerous researchers across Europe to also use Littorina as an ideal model to study the ‘tug of war’ between evolutionary forces that have driven ecotypic divergence across different habitats of littoral zones. She has authored 150 peer-reviewed articles, which have been cited nearly 9,000 times with an h-index of 56. She has trained 35 Ph.D. students and postdocs from Europe and abroad. Her impressive accomplishments have earned her 10 major awards, the most prestigious being The Swedish Börssällskapet Research Award and election to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. She also has received awards (e.g., the Swedish “Kunskapspriset”) in recognition of her outreach activities and the impact of her science on society.  In brief, Dr. Johannesson has been a pioneer and is still an influential leader in the field of marine molecular ecology in Europe and beyond.

Dr. Johannesson joins the previous winners of the Molecular Ecology Prize: Godfrey Hewitt, John Avise, Pierre Taberlet, Harry Smith, Terry Burke, Josephine Pemberton, Deborah Charlesworth, Craig Moritz, Laurent Excoffier, Johanna Schmitt, Fred Allendorf, Louis Bernatchez, Nancy Moran, Robin Waples, Scott Edwards, Victoria Sork, and Fuwen Wei.

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2022 Harry Smith Prize awarded to Arne Jacobs, for revealing the role of alternative splicing in parallel evolution

Arctic char, illustrated in Unsere Süßwasserfische: eine Übersicht über die heimische Fischfauna nach vorwiegend biologischen und fischereiwirtschaftlichen Gesichtspunkten, by Emil Walter (Flickr: Biodiversity Heritage Library)

This year’s Harry Smith Prize, which recognizes the best paper published in the field of molecular ecology by an early career scholar, has been awarded to Arne Jacobs at the University of Glasgow. Jacobs led the 2021 paper “Alternative splicing and gene expression play contrasting roles in the parallel phenotypic evolution of a salmonid fish,” published as the cover article of the October 11, 2021 issue of Molecular Ecology. Jacobs and his mentor Kathryn Elmer demonstrated, in part, that populations of Arctic char have evolved different alternative splicing of key genes involved in replicated divergence into benthic and pelagic ecotypes. As the award committee, Alison Nazreno and Kaichi Huang, noted in their decision letter,

Alternative splicing plays an important but largely neglected role in phenotypic change and adaptation. In this context, Arne’s article provides meaningful insights and analytical approach into diverse mechanisms underlying adaptive divergence. By strikingly linking distinct types of analyses and lines of evidence, the work leading by Arne highlights the role of alternative splicing in adaptive evolution, contrasting the more commonly studied gene expression. Notably, Arne’s approach showed that mechanisms such as splicing and expression underlie the divergence of different phenotypic axes. As a consequence, this paper will contribute to a shift of molecular ecology studies toward a more holistic view of transcriptome, looking deeply into the mechanisms for evolutionary change and regulation of biological processes through complimentary ways.

Dorant’s winning article is available Open Access at the Molecular Ecology website.

The award committee also recognized two “outstanding nominees” as second and third runners-up: Angel G. Rivera-Colón and Jana Wold, respectively. Rivera-Colón led another “From the Cover” article in Molecular Ecology, presenting a software package to simulate RADseq data for protocol optimization; and Wold led a synthetic review of the potential value in considering structural genomic variants in conservation genomics.

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Nominations open for the 2022 Molecular Ecology Prize

From the Molecular Ecology Prize Committee:

We are soliciting nominations for the annual Molecular Ecology Prize.

The field of molecular ecology is young and inherently interdisciplinary. As a consequence, research in molecular ecology is not currently represented by a single scientific society, so there is no body that actively promotes the discipline or recognizes its pioneers. The editorial board of the journal Molecular Ecology therefore created the Molecular Ecology Prize in order to fill this void, and recognize significant contributions to this area of research. The prize selection committee is independent of the journal and its editorial board.

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Recent reading: 29 April 2022

Joshua trees in profuse flower in the San Bernardinos (jby)

How is this month already almost over? Four weeks ago I was just starting to realize that an unexpected, astonishingly good flowering season for Joshua trees meant I needed to shoehorn in some fieldwork, eyeing the data analysis I needed to do for not one but two in-person conferences coming up in the first weeks of May, and hitting the hard phase of a training sequence for a marathon. Now I’m a week out from that first conference and still grasping for free days to drive into the desert, and the marathon has been … delayed a week? (This is not a thing that happens so late in the game! And yet.) Also I’ve had multiple workweeks with more days spent on campus than not, to the point that the morning commute feels dangerously routine.

Whether or not we’re ready for it there’s a whole backlog of things that weren’t properly possible for the last two years that are suddenly crashing back into place.

I have managed to do some reading, though! Here’s the highlights:

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Recent reading: 1 April 2022

(Flickr: Germán Poo-Caamaño)

April Fool’s Day is no one’s favorite holiday, as far as I can tell. I do remember a time when it was sort of fun to be listening to Morning Edition over breakfast and slowly realize that the totally serious-sounding report about (say) New England maple trees exploding because the syrup market had slowed down was a gag. But decades later, the internet is a year-’round stream of content pretending seriousness to deliver jokes of highly variable taste, and that’s not even getting into the news pretending to be real with no intention of a punchline.

On the other hand, this year I absolutely used the one April Fool’s appropriate article in the history of the journal Evolution (it was published in September) as the first reading assignment of my systematic botany course — for the third time. I don’t think students resent it, though they definitely miss the significance of the Steve Martin quote at the beginning.

Seriously, though, here’s some of what I’ve been reading, recently: Nifty new landscape genetics, an experiment in community genetics, and a paper I’m going to start using in class, I think.

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Nominations open for the 2022 Harry Smith Prize, recognizing early career research published in Molecular Ecology

The editorial board of the journal Molecular Ecology is seeking nominations for the Harry Smith Prize, which recognizes the best paper published in Molecular Ecology in the previous year by graduate students or early career scholars with no more than five years of postdoctoral or fellowship experience. The prize comes with a cash award of US$1000 and an announcement in the journal and in the Molecular Ecologist.  The winner will also be asked to join a junior editorial board for the journal to offer advice on changing research needs and potentially serve as a guest editor. The winner of this annual prize is selected by the junior editorial board.

The prize is named after Professor Harry Smith FRS, who founded Molecular Ecology and served as both Chief and Managing Editor during the journal’s critical early years. He continued as the journal’s Managing Editor until 2008, and he went out of his way to encourage early career scholars. In addition to his editorial work, Harry was one of the world’s foremost researchers in photomorphogenesis, where he determined how plants respond to shading, leading to concepts such as “neighbour detection” and “shade avoidance,” which are fundamental to understanding plant responses to crowding and competition. More broadly his research provided an early example of how molecular data could inform ecology, and in 2008 he was awarded the Molecular Ecology Prize that recognized both his scientific and editorial contributions to the field.

Please send a PDF of the paper you are nominating, with a short supporting statement (no more than 250 words; longer submissions will not be accepted) directly to Dr. Alison Gonçalves Nazareno ( and Dr. Kaichi Huang ( by Friday 29 April 2022. Self-nominations are encouraged.

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Recent reading: 18 March 2022

“Library” (Flickr: a.canvas.of.light)

In the last fortnight, I saw one long-gestating project finally published, and got to be a small part of the publication of what’s arguably the biggest-ever study of adaptive evolution. I subjected an SUV full of students to a botany-themed playlist on the way to a walk through Joshua tree woodlands; and spent a big part of Monday afternoon guiding some of those same students through keying out some lovely spring-blooming plants. My university also formally invested a new President, so I spent a big chunk of my Monday morning dressed like I was going to preside over court. The natural world is flowering, campus is as busy as I’ve seen it in ages, and science is actually getting done in the sense that it’s “done” when it’s published. Is this … normality?

Anyway here’s some of what I’ve been reading, recently:

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Recent reading: 4 March 2022

A view along a packed bookcase
“Library” (Flickr: Stewart Butterfield)

It’s now two weeks since I resumed in-person teaching, and so far, so good. It’s shockingly refreshing to actually interact with students directly, even with everyone masked, and to be able to just improvise with a specimen picked up on a walk around the campus. And field trips are back! There’s war in Europe (and the U.S. is at sort-of-but-not-war with Russia?) and the IPCC has dropped a huge list of things we need to do to cope with coming climate change but on Saturday I guided a bunch of students through keying out Ceanothus spinosus at the side of a trail in the Santa Monica Mountains. We might not be out of the woods yet, but we’re in different woods.

Here’s what I’ve been reading, recently:

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Recent reading: 18 Feb 2022

A cloud-streaked blue sky over distant mountains and an open desert landscape dotted with low shrubs
The Mojave Desert, south of Boulder City, Nevada (jby)

Fieldwork in the spring is always a bit tricky, but I’ve fortunately been able to put my teaching commitment aside for a week to help plant Joshua tree seedlings in an ongoing experiment in climate adaptation. It was a scramble to get things set up and get myself out the door to drive into the desert; and it’ll be a scramble to catch up when I get back into town. But in the moment, I’m out in the wind under the open sky, with a pallet of tiny delicate plants that need to be tucked into the ground.

Here’s what I’ve been reading, recently:

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