The living things we see are only a small proportion of life on Earth. Our environment is alive with unimaginably diverse microscopic creatures: the protists. Protists are not bacteria: they are complex single-celled organisms that may hold the key to understanding the origin of life on Earth.
By studying these creatures we can begin to understand how cells function and how higher life forms – like us – evolved. Scientists at the Earlham Institute compare the genomes of protists to try and find genes that are important for different cellular functions. They are also developing new technology to try and sequence genomes of protists directly from the environment and therefore better understand the tree of life in all its rich diversity.
Neil Hall is Director of the Earlham Institute on the Norwich Research Park and has been working in genomics for over 20 years. He has previously led research groups at the Sanger Institute, the Institute for Genomic Research, and the University of Liverpool. His research focusses on comparative and evolutionary genomics in pathogens (particularly parasitic protists) to understand the molecular basis of important phenotypes such as virulence and host specificity. His group also apply genomics to the analysis of microbial communities in order to understand how they may influence health or respond to changing environments.
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