New Horizons in Science

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The tree of lice and the tree of life: Tales of evolution and symbiosis written in one parasite’s gut

Topic: Evolution and Ecology
Enlarged microscopic image of a male human head louse
Giles San Martin
Sunday, November 3, 2013 -
9:30am to 10:30am
Century Ballroom A

How much science can you do with one lousy insect? Tons. As companions riding on humans through their evolution, lice reveal much about our species’ migration, evolution and history. But the blood of living and fossil lice doesn’t just carry the DNA of their hosts and their hosts’ microbiome; lice themselves are hosts to a shifting cast of endosymbiotic bacteria. Those rapidly evolving species provide precise molecular clocks for recreating events in primate evolution and interpreting the fossil record—while offering fascinating insights into bacterial and insect ecology and evolution to boot.


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