Darwin Day 2016: Still evolving – Evolution today and in the recent past

Welcome to the 11th annual Darwin Day celebration at the university of Oslo! This open event is for everybody interested in science and history. All are welcome! Speakers: Richard E. Lenski, Ludovic A. A. Orlando, Peter Zimmerman and Marlene Zuk.


10.15-10.20: Introduction

Nils Chr. Stenseth, Chair of CEES. Homepage.

10.20-11.05: Time travel in experimental evolution

Richard Lenski, Michigan State University. Homepage.

Abstract: Like cuneiform on clay tablets, the history of life itself is written in minerals and in code. The minerals are fossils of long-dead organisms, and the code is the language of DNA that reveals the family tree of life. But evolution is not only about the past—it is a process that continues to this day. In fact, it is possible to observe evolution and study it experimentally in organisms with rapid generations, including bacteria. Moreover, bacteria can be frozen and revived, allowing us to compare, and even compete, cells that lived at different times. In this talk, I will describe some of the results from an experiment with bacteria that has been running in my laboratory for over 25 years and 60,000 generations.

11.05-11.50: Tracking recent evolution with ancient DNA

Ludovic Orlando, Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen. Homepage.

Abstract: The survival of DNA molecules in long-dead fossil material offers a unique opportunity to catch evolution red-handed at the molecular level. This research area emerged in the mid-1980s and was for the first 25 years of its history, limited to the analysis of extremely limited genetic information. Recent technological breakthroughs have now opened access to the complete genome sequence of ancient individuals and extinct species, such as the woolly mammoth and Neanderthals. Such information has considerably enhanced our understanding of the recent evolution of our own species, directly revealing patterns of population migration, admixture, selection and extinction. Additionally, the genetic characterization of ancient pathogens has unveiled the etiological agents of massive historical outbreaks, and the evolutionary arm race that progressively transformed such pathogens into massively deadly killers. Ancient DNA also helped track how humans became an evolutionary force, modifying their environment and transforming multiple animal and plant species into domesticates. As a diversity of past plant, bacterial, fungal and animal DNA material are still preserved in sediments and ice cores, ancient DNA can reveal how ancient communities and ecosystems were reshaped in the face of major environmental crises, thereby illuminating our understanding of ecological interactions and extinction processes. Applied to historical museum specimens, such approaches can reveal how recent human activities and the ongoing climate warming is impacting current populations, thus, helping decision-making to improve the future conservation of biodiversity. In this presentation, I will use examples from my recent research to illustrate the diversity of situations in which ancient DNA can help us track recent evolutionary changes.

11.55-12.45: Break – a light snack will be served

12.45-13.30: Malaria: Evolving beyond the barrier of Duffy negative resistance

Peter Zimmerman, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Homepage.

Abstract: Plasmodium vivax is the most prevalent human malaria parasite and causes serious public health problems worldwide. Until recently Duffy blood group-negativity was considered to confer resistance to vivax malaria for most African ethnicities. I will present evidence that P. vivax infects Duffy-negative people from Madagascar to Mauritania and will provide insights suggesting that this parasite is evolving Duffy-independent mechanisms for invading human red blood cells. Speculation suggests that P. vivax caused the fevers that sidelined the traveling naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, provided him time to write Charles Darwin regarding his independent conclusions on mechanisms of speciation and thus served as the catalyst that finally led to publishing the theory of evolution by natural selection. Skål Plasmodium vivax!

13.30-14.15: Crickets, diets and songs: adaptive signal loss shows how evolution affects modern life

Marlene Zuk, University of Minnesota, USA. Homepage.

Abstract: At its surface, research on contemporary evolution seems to have little in common with the ways that people seek to improve their well-being. But understanding the rate of evolutionary change is key to putting evolution in perspective. I use our work on adaptive sexual signal loss in a field cricket to explore rapid evolution in general, and then suggest that such studies can help counter myths about evolutionary change in humans. For example, the idea that humans are ill-suited to a modern diet because we have not had time to adapt to agriculture reflects a misunderstanding of the evolutionary process.

14.15: Closing remarks

Nils Chr. Stenseth, Chair of CEES

PS: Marlene Zuk will also be giving a lecture at Litteraturhuset the following day!

Published Feb. 16, 2015 01:37 PM - Last modified Feb. 10, 2016 11:33 AM