Thursday, April 22, 2010

Evolutionary Dynamics

Review of the course

The four-day course “Evolutionary Dynamics” organized by the Research School on Ecology and Evolution is a good introduction to theoretical/analytical techniques employed in the study of evolution. One of its aims is for the students to “obtain a basic understanding of different theories for slow and fast evolutionary dynamics.” Even for a beginner to the subject without extensive training in evolutionary biology, the discussion of the mathematical concepts provides a nice overview of the contemporary problems in the field.

The lectures first covered quantitative genetics and tackled one specific numerical problem using the open-source computing software R. As an incidental bonus for many participants, this gave them a practical exposure to the computing software. The presentations were mostly highly mathematical and 60% of the slides contain equations many of which are as long as the width of the slide. Nonetheless, the lecturers avoided lengthy derivations and focused mostly on their interpretation. If I were working directly in this field of research, I would find the equations very useful to develop models and make some interesting predictions.

The second set of lectures dealt with a detailed discussion of a relatively new evolutionary dynamics framework called Adaptive Dynamics. It was presented along with a compilation of classic and new reading materials about the subject including an entire issue of a scientific journal wherein argumentative articles on the topic were reported. A geometrical tool called phase invasibility plot was explained thoroughly with lots of examples and practice exercises. For computationally-inclined students like me, it was fun to do the calculations and use appropriate visualization software to display our results. The lectures and the exercises allowed me to understand how single genotype mutation can be elucidated analytically.

Overall, the four-day course successfully presented an exciting subfield of biology through a discussion of the mathematical and computational tools to understand it.

The course took place in February 2010.


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