Gustavo Caetano-Anollés

Gustavo Caetano-Anollés

Department of Crop Sciences; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Caetano-Anollés is professor of bioinformatics at the University of Illinois and an expert in the fields of computational biology and evolutionary and comparative genomics. His lab seeks creative ways to mine, visualize and integrate data from structural and functional genomic research. His current interests focus on the origin, evolution and structure of biological molecules, chemistries, networks, and functions for synthetic biology. He is using his expertise in bioinformatics and biochemistry to compute the origin of life and the genetic code. He advocates for a world of coevolving molecules, dissipation of energy and information, and emergence of structure.

Profile continued

Gustavo Caetano-Anollés is a biochemist, genomicist and computational biologist who explores the interface between genomics, molecular structure, and biological evolution. He is author of over 200 publications in peer-reviewed journals, books and proceedings. His research on origins of biochemistry challenge established paradigms, including the existence on an ancient ‘RNA world’, the origins of the ribosome, and the canonical root of the ‘Tree of Life’.

He received a M. Sc. in Chemistry and a Ph. D. in Biochemistry from the National University of La Plata in Argentina. During his early career at Ohio State University and the University of Tennessee he studied the symbiosis between nitrogen-fixing root nodule-forming bacteria and legumes from different angles, exploring the role of bacterial attachment and chemotaxis and plant systemic signals that control nodule number. He co-invented the technique of DNA amplification with arbitrary primers. This technique generates fingerprints of nucleic acids and molecular markers useful for genome mapping and molecular ecology and evolution. He also developed widely used methods for the silver staining of DNA that are commercially available. He holds several US patents in molecular biology. He joined the faculty of the Department of Biology at the University of Oslo in 1998 and directed the laboratory of molecular ecology and evolution. Since 2003 he is at the University of Illinois and is an affiliate of the Institute for Genomic Biology. He received the Emile Zuckerkandl Prize in molecular evolution in 2002 and became University Scholar of the University of Illinois in 2010.

His research group has recently reconstructed the history of the protein world using information in entire genomes, revealed the existence of a 'big bang' of protein domain combinations late in evolution, traced evolution of proteins in biological networks, uncovered the origin of modern biological networks in pathways of nucleotide metabolism, and revealed important evolutionary reductive tendencies in the structural make up of proteins. Recently, his group used genomic information to propose that viruses are derived from ancient cells and were the first lineage to arise from the last universal ancestor of life. The group also found Archaea was the first cellular lineage to arise in evolution from a stem line that was complex at the molecular and cellular level. His team is currently exploring the role of structure and organization in the coevolution of proteins and functional RNA, including the origin and history of translation and the genetic code. 

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"Life is much like a vessel with planks and nails that decay and must be replaced when exposed to the hardships of time. The essence of the vessel remains despite of constant renewal and change. Its properties are pervasively persistent and ubiquitous… The essence pervades even if steel and rivets replace wooden planks and nails, metabolic networks replace chemical cycles, proteins replace peptides and nucleic acids replace ribotide cofactors. The essence pervades even if drivers and goals change and even if the system wanders as life finds its path through the ever-changing planetary landscape."

(The coevolutionary roots of biochemistry and cellular organization challenge the RNA world paradigm. J Mol Microbiol Biotechnol, 23(1-2): 152-77, 2013)

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