W. Ford Doolittle

Dalhousie University


Election Year: 2002
Primary Section: 27, Evolutionary Biology
Secondary Section: 44, Microbial Biology
Membership Type: Member

Research Interests

Understanding patterns and processes of evolution at the cellular and molecular level has been the goal of my work since the middle 1970s, both experimentally and at the level of evolutionary theory. Experimental work has included (1) testing the endosymbiont hypothesis for the origin of plastids from cyanobacteria; (2) comparative studies on cyanobacterial molecular biology and metabolism; (3) development and exploitation of tools for manipulation and mapping of genomes of archaea; (4) reconstructing early events in the phylogeny and genomic evolution of eukaryotes through sequencing representative genes, and (5) documenting and assessing the significance of lateral gene transfer in prokaryotic adaptation and diversification. Theoretical concerns, explored both computationally and conceptually over the last 30 years, include (1) the "selfish DNA" hypothesis as a general explanation for the presence in many genomes of excess repetitive DNA; (2) the antiquity of spliceosomal introns, and in particular whether these interruptions were present in the earliest genomes; (3) non-adaptationist explanations for molecular and cellular complexity; and (4) practical and philosophical implications of lateral gene transfer for microbial systematics, the ability to reconstruct ancestral genomes, and the significance of the "tree of life." I have recently become interested in and concerned about the impact of changes in the agendas of science funders on the quality of science.

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