Six months ago, some of the world’s brightest evolutionary biologists and scholars gathered on the University of Chicago campus for a three-day birthday party celebrating Charlie Darwin’s 200th. At the time, the blog featured live-ish coverage of the event wherein I tried my best to capture the fascinating lectures and discussion on display at Rockefeller Chapel and Ida Noyes Hall. But if my words were insufficient, you can now watch a handful of videos from the conference, courtesy of the official website. The videos are not embeddable, but here’s a quick viewer’s guide.
Jerry Coyne (University of Chicago): “Speciation: Problems and Prospects”
The author of Why Evolution is True discussed where he and Darwin disagree: the answer to the very title of Darwin’s seminal On the Origin of Species. Coyne explains the debate between sympatric and allopatric speciation, and how barriers – physical or otherwise – are usually the cause of new species formation.
Paul Sereno (University of Chicago): “Dinosaurs: Phylogenetic Reconstruction from Darwin to the Present”
Famed fossil hunter Sereno brought along the second-oldest bird skeleton ever found, but turned his focus from bones and digs to how morphologists – scientists who study the physical characteristics of specimens – can keep pace with the geneticists in constructing the Tree of Life.
David Jablonski (University of Chicago): “Paleontology and Evolutionary Biology: The Revitalized Partnership”
Speaking of paleontology, Jablonski pointed out how Darwin pointedly avoided using the fossil record in his classic writings because of its many holes and gaps in the mid-19th century. Today, fossil remains of species such as the bivalves that Jablonski studies provide scientists with a “trail of mayhem, destruction and heartbreak” that can be useful in reconstructing evolutionary history.
Neil Shubin (University of Chicago): “Great Transformations in Life: Insights from Genes & Fossils”
Shubin traveled to the unforgiving environment of the Canadian Arctic to make the landmark discovery of Tiktaalik, the earliest-known limbed tetrapod fossil. But the majority of his talk focused on the more comfortable setting of the laboratory, where genetic experiments on how limbs develop in sharks and skates offer clues to human evolution.
Robert J. Richards (University of Chicago): “Darwin’s Biology of Intelligent Design”
Co-organizer Richards represents the more historically and culturally-inclined upper half of the conference, presenting the provocative claim that Darwin believed natural selection to be a purposeful force rather than a blind machine of nature. ScienceLife founding father Jeremy Manier wrote about Richards’ lecture here.