Molecular evolution was born fifty years before the planned Conference, with a seminal paper by Zuckerkandl and Pauling (1962) which demonstrated that aminoacid changes in the globins followed a molecular clock and could provide information on the phylogeny of vertebrates and on the timing of their appearance on earth.
Principal themes and objectives of the event From changes in aminoacids to changes in nucleotides, the molecular level has provided an essential input into evolutionary investigations for the past decades. More recently, the molecular level has moved from the genes to the genome, so far mainly in the case of vertebrates (in which the coding sequences only represent about 2% of the total). The availability of full genome sequences has provided new possibilities for investigators in the field and major problems can now be tackled in a very precise way using bioinformatic tools. Indeed, an example of this approach has been the recent solution (Bernardi, 2007)of a twenty-year-old debate, that between neutralists and selectionists.
One of the major current debates concerns adaptive vs. non-adaptive evolution. Random events in evolution were originally raised as a fundamental problem by Jacques Monod in his famous book "Chance and necessity". The problem has now been shifted to the genome level. A preliminary discussion took place in October 2010 in a Meeting "Chance and Necessity in Evolution" (Ravello, Italy; papers are in press in a special issue of Genome Biology and Evolution). The proposed meeting should go deeper into such a basic issue. While this will be one of the main subject of the meeting in which different views will confront each other (with Bernardi, Jarosz, Koonin, Ohta, Ptashne), other basic topics in Genome Evolution will be addressed. Werner Arber, Hamilton Smith (two Nobel Laureates) and George Church will discuss in depth the results obtained so far "directing" evolution in microbial systems, their interpretation and even the ethical issues raised. Davidson, Gehring and Gojobori will deal with the evolution of developmental processes; Martin, Saccone and Wallace with the evolution of mitochondrial genomes; Okada and Shapiro with the impact of mobile elements on genome evolution; Jeffreys and Saitou with recombination and biased gene conversion; Bustamante, Felsenfeld, Hartl and Haussler with regulation of gene expression and copy number variation in the human genome. Last but not least, Emile Zuckerkandl will recollect the beginning of Molecular Evolution.