This phase of the project will also explore the internal anatomy of cells through 3D reconstructions of their interior components. The approach uses comparative genomics, spatial proteomics, microscopy and bioenergetic analyses to investigate cellular features and assess the biological costs of constructing and operating them. (This research will be carried out by co-PIs Frasch, Wideman and Hu.)

The second major theme will be so-called cell biology scaling laws. While the astonishing diversity of life spans some 21 orders of magnitude in size, biological systems have been shown to obey a series of systematic, quantitative rules. Research will investigate general scaling relationships across the tree of life; for example, how factors affect cell reproductive rates, numbers of mitochondria or how various molecules inside cells scale with cell size. This project uses a structural-biology approach to explore how highly conserved cellular complexes display wide evolutionary divergence.

Evolutionary cell biology will be integrated with theories of population genetics, including the study of how various non-adaptive mechanisms (such as genetic drift) may help dictate the nature of these scaling laws.

Finally, the third major project will focus on evolution in action through experimental studies in the lab. Lynch’s center has been engaged in this type of research since its inception. Here, a broad range of unicellular prokaryotic and eukaryotic species are being investigated. 

In co-PI Geiler-Samerotte’s lab, a system is being developed that will allow different microbial strains to be barcoded so that mutations and subtle alterations in cell physiology can be tracked through time as they respond to variables like temperature, population size and food availability.

The emphasis on unicellular organisms will take advantage of their comparatively short generation times as well as the enormous phylogenetic, morphological, metabolic and ecological diversity of microbes, which vastly surpass that of metazoans and land plants.

The goal will be to integrate these three independent projects to reveal the cellular rules of life and establish mechanistic principles, rooted in evolutionary theory, to explain them.

The institute is expected to have a global, transformative impact, revising the ways in which cell biologists consider evolutionary processes and constraints, and how evolutionary biologists decipher underlying cellular mechanisms across diverse forms of life.

Next-generation science

An important mandate for new centers is broad student participation and public outreach. ASU’s institute initiative will be continuously receptive to new proposals from university participants as well as the global research community. A journal club will engage local students to be involved with three- to four-week clusters, focusing on a particular research theme. The institute will also host exchange programs for national and international researchers, and will be guided further through its local and international advisory boards.

The Biodesign Center for Mechanisms in Evolution has formed a community college research and teaching exchange with Glendale Community College, overseen by Biological Integration Institute collaborator and center researcher John McCutcheon.

The proposed educational opportunities are designed to help retain students in STEM fields and advance interested students into four-year programs. In the longer term, the institute hopes to train a new generation of researchers in the growing field of evolutionary cell biology and advance these researchers into positions in academia, industry, government and NGOs.

Lynch is well-positioned to lead this ambitious effort. In addition to directing the Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution, he is the recipient of numerous awards for outstanding research in his field, most recently, the prestigious Lifetime Contribution Award from the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Lynch is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is also a past president or member of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution, the Genetics Society of America, the Society for the Study of Evolution and the American Genetics Association.