BIO Distinguished Lecture Series: Dr. Michael Lynch

Please join us on January 22nd as the Directorate for Biological Sciences welcomes Dr. Michael Lynch of Arizona State University and Director of the Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution for his Distinguished Lecture titled, “Evolutionary Origin of Cell Biology’s Scaling Laws.”


Dr. Michael Lynch 

Arizona State University

Evolutionary Origin of Cell Biology’s Scaling Laws


Many well-known power-law scaling relationships have been discovered that apply across the Tree of Life for various aspects of molecular biology, physiology, genome structure, and intracellular structure. The diverse explanations for such patterns are controversial, but almost always seek shelter in natural-selection scenarios. However, although natural selection may be the most powerful force in the biological world, it is not all powerful. Ultimately, the power of random genetic drift determines what selection can and cannot accomplish. The drift-barrier hypothesis provides a potentially unifying explanation for a diversity of biology’s scaling laws, including the evolutionary diversification of the mutation rate, aspects of gene structure and genome architecture, and maximum cellular growth rates. This broad set of observations, bolstered by theory, implies that the population-genetic environment imposes a fundamental constraint on the paths that are open vs. closed for evolutionary exploration in different phylogenetic lineages. Integration of biology’s three engines of quantitative theory – population genetics, biophysics, and systems biology – will be required for the establishment of a formal field of evolutionary cell biology.


Michael Lynch is the Director of the Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution, Arizona State University. His research focuses on the genetic mechanisms of evolution, particularly at the genomic and cellular levels, and on population-genomic analysis. The lab works with a number of model systems, most notably the microcrustacean Daphnia, the ciliate Paramecium, and numerous other unicellular prokaryotic and eukaryotic species. Current research foci include: the 5000 Daphnia genomes project; global patterns of genomic and cellular diversity in ciliates; the evolution of replication and transcription error rates; the consequences of genome duplication; the evolution of the transcriptional vocabulary; and long-term microbial evolution under regimes differing in population size, mutation rate, and degree of nutrient replenishment. All of this empirical work integrates with theory development. He received his undergraduate degree in biology from St. Bonaventure University, and a Ph. D. in Ecology and Behavioral Biology from the University of Minnesota. He has previously held faculty positions at the University of Illinois, University of Oregon, and Indiana University. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and is past president of the Genetics Society of America, the Society for the Study of Evolution, the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution, and the American Genetics Association. Three widely cited books are Genetics and Analysis of Quantitative Traits (with Bruce Walsh, 1998), The Origins of Genome Complexity (2007), and Evolution and Selection of Quantitative Traits (with Bruce Walsh, 2018).

The lecture will be webcast on January 22nd at the following URL: []

Please contact Nick Hunt [] to attend in person at NSF Headquarters. Advance sign-up requests are required, and guidelines for visiting NSF are at