Reverse Ecology:
Computational Integration of Genomes, Organisms, and Environments

Division of Biology and Medicine

IGERT in Reverse Ecology, Brown University and Marine Biological Labs

PI: David Rand

NSF Full Proposal # 0966060

This IGERT award supports a novel graduate program in Reverse Ecology to train PhDs at the interface of computational biology, genomics and environmental science. It leverages new education and research collaborations between Brown University and the Marine Biological Laboratories. Reverse Ecology is the application of genomic approaches to living systems to uncover the genetic bases of functional variation in nature. The revolution in high-throughput DNA sequencing and gene expression technologies redefines the notion of a 'model' organism. The interrogation of genomes from animals, plants, microbes or communities of organisms can identify genetic markers of processes at any scale: ecological, physiological, developmental, transcriptional, etc. The full interpretation of these powerful datasets demands intellectual dialogue between ecosystems ecologists, microbial geneticists, biogeochemists, and computational biologists. We will train a cohort of PhDs who can apply these technologies creatively and convert genomic and computational power into novel insights of how organisms function in their natural environments. Highlights of the program include 1) a year long immersion course targeting environmental variation at Long Term Ecological Research sites where students design an experiment, use high-throughput genomic and computational strategies to test hypotheses and prepare multi-authored manuscripts for publication; 2) gain breadth from jointly mentored research rotations where students and faculty cross disciplinary boundaries; 3) develop career skills that integrate grant writing, public speaking, ethics, diversity and international perspectives on science. This graduate program's research themes include 1) microbial and comparative genomics, 2) genetic responses to environmental stressors, 3) assembling genomes from environmental samples, and will engage IBM and the J Craig Ventor Institute in creating a new model for graduate education. We will train PhDs in the context of university, institutional, and corporate environments to become leaders in the identification and integration of scientific questions across formerly distant disciplines.