International Plant & Animal Genome Conference / PAG 32 • January 10-15, 2025  •  San Diego, CA, USA

PAG31 3 Scott Edwards smProfessor and Chair, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University; Curator of Ornithology, Museum of Comparative Zoology, USA

Monday, January 15,  8:00 AM / Atlas Ballroom

Talk Title:  “Comparative Population Pangenomes: A New Frontier for the Evolutionary Analysis of Birds”


Scott Edwards is Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Curator of Ornithology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. Scott is an evolutionary biologist, with diverse interests in molecular evolution, phylogenetics, comparative genomics and population genetics. His research uses birds as model systems, focusing on their evolutionary history, phylogeography and genome evolution. Scott’s students and postdocs conduct a wide range of studies in phylogeography and population genetics of birds, including pangenome analyses of natural populations and phylogenetic studies of the evolution of neo-sex chromosomes. Much of this work is supported by field collection of specimens and genomic resources by Scott and his lab. His current major focus a collaboration with statisticians and developmental biologists, aims to use phylogenetic trees and statistical models to link genomic and phenotypic variation and identify noncoding loci associated with lineage-specific and convergent morphologies, behaviors and life history traits. This collaboration, supported by NIH grant R01 HG011485 from the National Human Genome Research Institute, will also conduct high-throughput functional tests of candidate enhancers identified in phylogenetic screens for their ability to drive gene expression in the developing limb of chickens.

Another major project, funded by a grant from NSF in their Dimensions of Biodiversity program (DEB-1831560), focuses on phenotypic and genomic traits facilitating diversification in the neglected habitats comprising the Dry Diagonal in Brazil. Students on this project conduct fieldwork to support high-quality genomics and gene expression analyses to understand adaptations to arid habitats as compared to close relatives living in the more mesic habitats of the Amazon and Atlantic Forest.

As Curator of Ornithology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) at Harvard, Scott has promoted field collection of high-quality genomic resources to support 21st century genomics and gene expression work by the community. Based on fieldwork over the last 20 years in countries as far flung as Peru, Australia, Mongolia and the United States, the Ornithology Department of the MCZ now has likely the largest and most diverse collection of RNA-ready tissues for birds, all associated with specimen vouchers and searchable through the MCZ database. A priority of Scott’s lab is to train the next generation of curators and collections-savvy leaders in ornithology, genomics and beyond.

Scott has served as President of the Society for the Study of Evolution, the American Genetics Association and the Society of Systematic Biologists and has served on National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration and the Advisory Boards of the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian) and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. From 2013-2015 Scott served as Division Director of the Division of Biological Infrastructure at the US National Science Foundation, where he facilitated funding in areas such as undergraduate research experiences, supporting biological collections and major infrastructure and bioinformatics. He has devoted his career to increasing the number of BIPOC students in the environmental sciences, in part through support from NSF. He has won numerous awards both for his research and for his efforts to increase diversity in the biological sciences, including the 2019 Molecular Ecology Prize and the inaugural Inclusiveness, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA) award from the Society for the Study of Evolution in 2020 (with Richard Kliman). He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and is an elected Fellow of the American Ornithological Society. In 2020 he rode his bicycle across the United States, traversing 15 states and passing through numerous rural communities and landscapes. He lives in Concord, MA and teaches undergraduates and graduate students in ecology and evolutionary biology.