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Darwin Day 2015: Mendel, Darwin and the changing views on genetics

Speakers: Michaela Jarkovská, Staffan Müller-Wille, Stig Omholt and Aoife McLysaght

Welcome to Darwin Day 2015!

Thursday 12 February 10.15-14.15

World leading experts and researchers will tell you about Gregor Mendel, new thoughts on Mendel vs. Darwin, the secret of life - and more.



10.15-10.20: Introduction

Nils Chr. Stenseth, Chair of CEES. Homepage.

10.20-11.05: Gregor Mendel - Man, abbot and scientist

Michaela Jarkovská, The Mendel Museum

Michaela Jarkovská works in Mendel Museum of Masaryk University as Head of Guides. Her main field of interest are guided tours and creating short-term exhibitions. She is co-author of permanent exhibition in the museum and Editor in Chief of Museologica Brunensia Magazine. 

11.05-11.50: Darwin and Mendel on heredity

Staffan Müller-Wille, University of Exeter

It has often been speculated what would have happened if Darwin had noticed Mendel’s experiments. There have been rumours, even in scholarly literature, that Darwin possessed an uncut copy of Mendel’s Versuche über Pflanzen-Hybriden, supporting the view that no biologist in the nineteenth century, including Darwin, could really have understood the significance of Mendel. On the other hand, Mendel has been portrayed as a covert opponent of Darwinism, who wanted to prove the stability of species, even though Mendel’s marginalia in Darwin’s Origin reveal an attentive, but not hostile reader. In contrast to these oft-repeated stories I will argue that Darwin and Mendel were not separated by an unbridgeable conceptual divide. There exist a few features that both Darwin and Mendel shared in their engagement with questions of inheritance. These include: a) an inductive, empirical methodology inspired by the exact sciences; b) a reliance on breeding as an experimental model to understand natural inheritance; c) a focus on individual variations; and d) an acceptance of the basic tenets of cell theory, which allowed for analogies being drawn between macroscopic traits and microscopic dispositions. These features placed both Darwin and Mendel in an eccentric (although, in the case of Darwin, much noticed) position within nineteenth century theorizing about heredity.

Staffan Müller-Wille is Senior Lecturer and Co-director of Egenis, the Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences, at the University of Exeter (England), and holds an honorary chair at the University of Lübeck. He has published extensively on the history of natural history, heredity, and genetics. Among the more recent publications is book co-authored with Hans-Jörg Rheinberger on A Cultural History of Heredity (University of Chicago Press, 2012). Work in progress includes a new English translation of Gregor Mendel's paper "Versuche über Pflanzen-Hybriden" (1866) and a book-length study of the paper technologies that Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) and his followers used to assemble and cross reference information on plants and animals. Homepage.

11.50-12.45: Break: Coffee, cakes, exhibition, book sale

12:45-13.30: Mendelian genetics in the light of genomics and systems biology

Stig Omholt, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

The current availability of high-throughput sequencing and phenotyping technologies combined with extensive use of mathematical tools widely used in physics and engineering have opened for attacking explanatory goals associated  with the genotype-phenotype relation that have been beyond reach for generations of geneticists since Mendel. The talk will address to which degree Mendelian genetics and thinking still apply in this context. 

Stig W. Omholt is a Professor and Division Director at the Faculty of Medicine at NTNU, and Professor at the CIGENE, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU). He has a broad experience in theoretical biology, has worked for several years as an experimental biologist. Homepage.

13.30-14.15: Gene duplication and the secret of life

Aoife McLysaght, University of Dublin

Evolution is powered by variation; the differences in DNA sequences. One hugely important form is copy number variation, where genes are duplicated or deleted from one generation to the next. This talk will explore how copy number variations gave us colour vision, a sense of smell and haemoglobin in our blood, but also the continuous generation of variation in modern human populations and the sometimes deleterious impact it has.

Aoife McLysaght is a professor in Genetics in Trinity College Dublin where she has led a research group since 2003. In 2009 her team made the first ever discovery of completely novel human-specific genes. Aoife takes a great interest in public engagement with science and has contributed to TV and radio shows in Ireland and the UK, has written for national newspapers, and regularly gives talks aimed at non-specialists. Homepage.

14.15: Closing remarks

Nils Chr. Stenseth, Chair of CEES


Published Mar. 12, 2014 2:28 PM - Last modified Mar. 9, 2021 9:37 AM