Friday, October 24, 2008

Evolution Revolution

Mica ecology research cluster: I'm currently attending a conference in Atlanta, at Emory University on Future Evolution. I thought the subject of some of the sessions would be of interest.

Creativity Conversation with E. O. Wilson and Rosemary Magee
3:00 p.m., Jones Room, Woodruff Library

As part of Emory’s series of Creativity Conversations, Wilson looks back at the significant mileposts on the road to becoming the “father of biodiversity.”

Keynote Address: E. O. Wilson,”Darwin and the Future of Biology”
7:00 p.m., Glenn Auditorium

One of the world’s greatest living scientists and ‘father of biodiversity’ reflects on the future of biology and its effects on our lives.

Friday, October 24
all events at the Emory Conference Center

“The Art of Seduction: Evolution, Sex, and the Public”
9:00–10:00 a.m.

Olivia Judson, New York Times columnist and one of the preeminent science writers of our time, explores the challenge of communicating evolutionary science to the public in a talk that is one part natural history, one part biology of sex, and one part personal anecdote.

Panel 1: Who Are We in Evolutionary Perspective?

“Descended from apes?” That was the incredulous question that greeted Darwin’s On the Origin of Species following its publication in 1859. Now, nearly 150 years later, what have we learned about human similarities and differences from our closest genetic cousins, nonhuman primates?

Frans de Waal explores astonishing similarities between nonhuman primate and human behavior and cognition in areas once regarded as most distinctly and even nobly human, such as ethics, empathy, and altruism.

Todd Preuss suggests possible similarities and differences in the evolution and functions of brains in human and nonhuman primates. How does this research suggest new ways of approaching who we are and what our potential is?

Panel 2: How Can We Optimize Our Evolutionary Inheritance?
1:30–3:00 p.m.

What is the greatest influence on human health—nature or nurture? New research demonstrates that this is a dated dichotomy obscuring the mutual interaction between genes and environment. Genes, we are learning, are dynamically related in their operation to cues from the environment. How does new research on this exchange between genes and environments suggest ways to optimize our health individually as well as across generations and populations?

Carol Worthman explains the nature-nurture matrix and how it helps us to understand which human variations are normal and which may be the result of societal disparities.

Michelle Lampl probes the dynamic of genes and environment as it relates to children’s growth and their lifelong and inter-generational health.

Leslie Real looks at how evolutionary principles illuminate the rise of new diseases—such as HIV, Ebola, and SARs—and the drug resistance of more familiar diseases—such as TB and malaria. Encouragingly, these same principles provide a guide to protecting our global health.

Panel 3: Can We Engineer New Life?
3:30–5:00 p.m.

We speak of the “miracle of life” in appreciation of its wondrous nature and also because its origin remains a mystery. Considering that mystery, Darwin suggested in a letter in 1871 that life may have arisen “in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, &C. present.” Today, researchers are making progress toward understanding that “&C”—the chemical origins and processes that led to the emergence of life. The application of this research has enormous potential to enhance existing life forms and engineer new ones. Examples would include biofactories that produce new drugs, create energy sources, and consume pollution, as well as the fabrication of tissues and organs that may transform healthcare and even our experience of being human.

Nicholas Hud and David Lynn are heading a National Science Foundation-sponsored effort to advance an understanding of how life began and provide insight into a variety of ways that life could emerge and evolve in different environments.

Ichiro Matsumura studies the evolutionary capacities of proteins, a fundamental component of all living cells, and the possibilities of directing their evolution at the most basic biochemical level.

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