Understanding the history of life on Earth and the emergence and evolution of biological function constitute fundamental challenges of biological research. One major goal is to characterize the origin, evolution and structure of complete repertoires of proteins (PROTEOMES) in the viral world and compare it to the repertoires of the cellular world, mapping their function, and studying how structure and function evolve along the branches of a truly universal TREE OF LIFE (ToL). The current ToL depicts the branching history of inheritance (phylogeny) of cellular lineages but does not incorporate the viral world. To integrate viral and cellular knowledge at global level, we here request funding to catalyze a 3-partner international collaboration between the University of Illinois (UIUC), the Korean Bioinformation Center (KOBIC), and the Pasteur Institute (Paris). This Evolutionary Genomics Collaborative (EGC) initiative will involve visits of UIUC team members to Korea and France to seed collaborative research and enhance educational opportunities for UIUC graduate students and early career personnel. We will integrate research and education through (i) mentoring experiences for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers that foster bioinformatics in the U.S. and abroad, (ii) undergraduate research and mentoring experiences to U.S. students, (iii) bioinformatics outreach programs, and (iv) research experiences in bioinformatics for Middle School teachers to enhance STEM in the classroom.
Broader Impacts: Synthesis is an essential component of scientific inquiry. Here we use molecular survey, history reconstruction, and computational analysis to integrate research related to evolution of the modern macromolecular world and of life. The direct linking of structure and function in macromolecules provides manifold benefits, both basic and applied, and is key to our understanding of cellular functions and how these evolve. For example, metabolism is responsible for the energetic demands of biological complexity, yet we know little of how it originated or evolved. The project broadens educational opportunities by exposing postdoctoral researchers, graduate students, undergraduates, and schoolteachers to international frontier research in evolutionary genomics and systems biology. Research will also impact the community through scientific meetings and conferences, public workshops, and other activities.