Evolutionary and Organismal Biology Unit

Biological systems are organized in a hierarchial manner structurally, and can be studied at levels ranging from molecules to ecosystems. Decades of narrowly focussed studies at one or the other level of structural complexity have greatly enhanced the body of information we possess about biological systems, leading to a state exemplified by T.S. Eliot's lament: "Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" Consequently, biology today is entering an integrative phase in which we are attempting to synthesize vast amounts of information into a holistic understanding of how living systems function and evolve.

Although biological systems are hierarchial in terms of structure, functionality in biological systems is typically integrated across scales of structural complexity. Functionality in biological systems, moreover, needs to be interpreted and understood in a meaningful natural context. In the vast majority of cases, the principal structural level of complexity that is also a functionally integrated entity is the multicellular organism, and it is also the organism that is most often the primary unit upon which natural selection acts to shape the functionality of organisms over generations. Biological questions regarding the fundamental processes of life- such as metabolism, physiology, behaviour and evolution- are consequently, best posed in the context of an organism embeded in its ecology. Indeed, biological understanding today is increasingly an effort to understand the functioning of organisms in the context of their ecology i.e, their habitat, their way of life, and the other organisms of their own and different species with which they interact.

In Organismal Biology, the organism is the entity around which (a) questions regarding functionality in biological systems are framed, and (b) information gleaned from studies at various structural levels of biological complexity is welded together in an attempt to answer such questions. In a sense, the term "Organismal Biology" is overkill: by and large, only organisms have a biology. Molecules do not have a biology any more than mathematical models do. Nevertheless, understanding the structure and dynamics of molecules, and of mathematical models, can be very useful in understanding the biology of organisms. Indeed in its quest to understand functionality in living systems, Organismal Biology uses tools, techniques and information from a variety of disciplines, including molecular genetics, evolutionary genetics, biochemistry, physiology, behaviour, ecology, computation, physics, statistics, and mathematics.

Our Unit is one of the principal centres in the country for research and training in evolutionary genetics, population ecology, and behavioural ecology. We do mostly empirical research, both in the laboratory and in the field, using a combination of experimental tools from evolutionary quantitative genetics, molecular genetics, developmental biology, animal behaviour, and population biology. We also conduct theoretical research, largely through computer simulations of mathematical models of biological processes.

Our Unit is well equipped for a) studies using a range of experimental and computational tools, with labs for routine handling of large numbers of Drosophila populations, and for experiments in physiology, biochemistry, and molecular biology, and b) for field studies.