Darwin200

Darwin200 - Rob Phillips California Institute of Technology...

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Rob Phillips California Institute of Technology A Special Lecture: Darwin 200 Feb. 12, 2009
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Lagrange on Newton: he was "the most fortunate, for we cannot find more than once a system of the world to establish.” The same can be said of Darwin and Wallace. In physics we often celebrate the unity of phenomena. In biology, a compelling and exciting alternative is to embrace the diversity of phenomena. Fascinating essay of T. Dhobzhansky entitled: ``Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.’’ - the phrase has become hackneyed, but the idea has not. Darwin found data led to inescapable conclusion, ``it was like confessing a murder’’ he wrote.
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One ingredient for evolution is variation, differences between the parents and their offspring. Though Darwin is famous for finches, if you read ``The Origin of Species’’ you will see that it starts by talking about domestication of animals and how breeders exploit variation (Darwin was way into pigeons). The ``struggle for existence’’ - you do the numbers on a bacterial culture!
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A classic story of artificial selection is provided by man’s best friend. All dogs descended from only one of the more than 20 canine species: WOLVES .
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Genetics, as discovered by Mendel, provided the mechanistic underpinnings for the observed variations in organisms. Controlled study of variation in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster)provided a host of interesting insights into development and heredity. Female (left) and male (right) flies with the mutation eyeless
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The family tree of life - the classification of organisms (both living and extinct) makes most sense when viewed as a family tree. Vestigial structures - whales, snakes, humans with tails Biogeography - distributions of species reveal patterns that only make sense in light of evolution. See the Wallace line. Fossils (The Earth is replete with vast evidence of the long history of life) Molecules as documents of evolutionary history (comparing sequences and structures from different organisms). Also, now DNA from extinct organisms. Evolution in real time (Peter and Rosemary Grant and the Galapagos finches, antibiotic resistance, flu each year, etc.)
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Chapter 6 of ``The Origin of Species’’ outlines the challenges to the idea of variation by natural selection. “Difficulties on Theory” - Darwin emphasized perfectly correctly the role of skeptical thinking in science.
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Key lesson: field biologists have undertaken adventures to the farthest corners of the world to look for previously unknown forms of life. From Van Leeuwenhoek to Darwin to Stetter, each new round of exploration tells us about new “biological dark matter”.
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Diversity of living organisms is enormous.
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This map from Wallace's 1876 book shows his Oriental biogeographic region, broken into four subregions (outlined in red). "Wallace's Line" is indicated by the arrow.
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Karl Stetter has spent his life searching for new and bizarre classes of extremophiles. The archaeon Pyrococcus furiosus (“rushing fireball”) was named for its
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Darwin200 - Rob Phillips California Institute of Technology...

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