EEB graduate student Brian Metzger won the 2014-2015 EEB Outstanding Paper of the Year award for his first-authored paper published in the journal Nature describing a new genetic study.

Whether you're baking bread or building an organism, the key to success is consistently adding ingredients in the correct order and in the right amounts, according to the paper, titled “Selection on noise constrains variation in a eukaryotic primer.”

Using the baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Metzger and his colleagues developed a novel way to disentangle the effects of random genetic mutations and natural selection on the evolution of gene expression.

“While changes in gene expression are known to be important for evolution, the molecular details of this process are relatively unknown,” explained Metzger. “In this paper, we explored how gene expression evolves by creating hundreds of individual mutations in a single gene and then measuring their effects on gene expression in individual cells. We then compared the effects of these mutations to the effects of naturally occurring variants to gain insights into the evolutionary process. Surprisingly, we found that the most important factor for how this gene evolved was not the level of expression, but was instead the amount of variation in expression between individuals.”

EEB postdoctoral fellows Sujal Phadke and Megan Van Etten reviewed the papers. “First, we congratulate the authors of all the papers," they said. "We were impressed with the quality and significance of their research topics. It was a pleasure to get a glimpse at the wide range of research in the department. After reading all submissions, we choose the paper by Metzger et al as the winner for the EEB graduate student paper award.

“This paper was especially well written, involved an extensive amount of very careful work both during execution of experiments and presentation of results. The major conclusion of the paper was surprising yet super cool and it was mechanistically well reasoned out. We felt that in addition to providing a major advance to evolutionary biology theory, it explained an important natural phenomenon. Reading about this work was an absolute pleasure.”

Published online March 16, 2015, the paper is coauthored by former MCDB graduate student David Yuan, currently a postdoc at Stanford University, Jonathan Gruber, a former EEB postdoctoral fellow who is now a bioinformatics analyst at Monsanto and Fabien Duveau, EEB postdoctoral fellow, and Professor Patricia Wittkopp. In addition to the honor, Metzger received $500.

The paper was previously featured on the U-M Gateway.

Michigan News press release