all is not lost

All is not lost

The ‘tree of life’ metaphor is used to describe relationships between organisms, and exploring those relationships can help us understand how the world’s species have evolved. Now, computer scientists at uea have developed ‘lasso’, a revolutionary new programme that will unearth the missing links in our planet’s past.

Charles Darwin built a picture of the shared ancestry of Earth’s plants and animals by comparing the characteristics of the many species he encountered on his travels. These detailed comparisons showed how the planet’s organisms are related and laid the foundations for the work done by today’s evolutionary biologists.

Since then, we’ve built a much more detailed picture of life on Earth, but biologists continue to make discoveries that deepen our understanding of evolution and sprout new branches on the tree of life.

Computer scientists at UEA have created ground-breaking software that will help biologists to build these evolutionary trees by computing huge sets of data, even when vital pieces of information are lost.

The new programme, called ‘Lasso’, was developed by UEA’s School of Computing Sciences and enables researchers to map complex evolutionary trees when previously essential information about the genetic or morphological similarity of organisms is not available.

Dr Katharina Huber and her PhD student George Kettleborough, both from UEA’s School of Computing Sciences, worked with colleagues at the Institute of Food Research (IFR) to test the new programme using its National Collection of Yeast Cultures (NCYC).

They road-tested the Lasso software on the collection which holds more than 4000 strains collected over 65 years.

Dr Huber said: “Projects like this present exciting new challenges for computer science and it is encouraging to see that Lasso has the potential to help achieve these goals.”

This exciting research at the interface of computing and biology continues the work started by Darwin and marks an important step in the ongoing effort to understand the origins of life.

What will you uncover?

The Expert

Dr Katharina Huber


My research interests range from developing mathematical theory and algorithms; to helping shed light into the complex processes that drive molecular evolution, and the study of combinatorial objects such as cluster systems and (finite) metric spaces. 

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