Strategic Initiatives

Imaging Evolution - Inferring Evolutionary Processes Using Networks

One of the distinctive characteristics of the Allan Wilson Centre is that it builds bridges between researchers working in molecular biology and ecology and those in mathematics and the computational sciences. This is particularly the case with the ‘Imaging Evolution’ Strategic Initiative, the primary goal of which is to develop novel mathematical techniques and software for evolutionary genetic analysis.

A major focus of the initiative is the development of improved techniques for building haplotype networks, a form of visual representation of genetic data that is particularly effective when answering questions linking genetics with ecology, geography and demographics. Haplotype networks are a fundamental and widely-used tool in molecular phylogenetics, phylogeography, ecology and conservation genetics for studying the recent evolution of populations; and used to infer past evolutionary processes such as migration, selection, trait evolution and other population dynamics.

A software program, named ‘PopArt’ is being developed to implement the new network-building methods, and will be made freely available to researchers in New Zealand and internationally.

Key Benefits:

  • New tools for the international scientific community for the analysis of genomic data
  • Applications span many fields of evolutionary biology - two examples of potential use in New Zealand include analysing the genetic structure of economically important fisheries in support of our fishing industry, and determining the population structure of animal and human pathogens

Mike Steel discusses maths and biology with Kim Hill on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon program (4 May 2013).