The way in which organisms react to their environments involves both short-term ecological and long-term evolutionary responses. The complexity of these interactions has made their genetic and mechanistic dissection difficult. However, advances in high-throughput genomic technologies and computational methods to handle the enormous amounts of data now make these complex questions tractable.
The field of Ecological Genomics seeks to understand the genetic mechanisms underlying responses of organisms to their natural environments. These responses include modifications of biochemical, physiological, morphological, or behavioral traits of adaptive significance (Ungerer, Johnson and Herman, 2008). This is being achieved through the application of functional genomic approaches to identify and characterize genes with ecological and evolutionary relevance.
The recent and continuing innovations in sequencing technologies has affected all areas of Biology and opened up new avenues of research within Ecological Genomics that spans nearly all levels of biological organization. For example, we can now determine the effects of the abiotic environment on individuals at the level of gene expression as well as the extent of genetic variation within whole populations and even communities at the level of the whole genome. These innovations promise to illuminate genome function by elucidating the functions of unfamiliar genes and relevant ecological drivers by determining responsive genome functions.
By its very nature, ecological genomics is an interdisciplinary field, requiring a multidisciplinary approach that combines field studies with laboratory experiments with in ecologically relevant framework that integrates disciplines by using genomic approaches in an ecological context.
The Kansas State University Ecological Genomics Institute (KSU EGI) seeks to provide an intellectual environment as well as resources to enable integrated research approaches that address these questions. Currently, over 20 KSU laboratories across at least three colleges are affiliated with the KSU EGI.