- Extinctions: Forest fires Among the Trees of Life
Richard Cowen, UC Davis
In biological terms, major extinctions sweep through existing taxa, ending some and at the same time opening opportunities for others. In physical terms, major extinctions are difficult to categorize, because they show a surprising range of phenomena. It is likely that each major extinction is set off by a unique combination of events: after all, they are rare. And that means that each major extinction is likely to play out in a unique combination of biological results, both at the time and afterward. In human terms, extinction events seem to attract an extraordinary range of bad science, from geologists and non-geologists, biologists and non-biologists. In this talk I will try to describe the major extinctions and what we think about them now. But I will also try to provide tools to help decide whether next year's hypotheses and assertions are sensible or preposterous.
Read Dr. Cowen's talk OUTLINE, as well as additional writings on EXTINCTION, THE K-T EXTINCTION and THE EARLY SOLAR SYSTEM.
- Can Life Be Synthesized in the Laboratory?
Or, Igor, Please Pass the RNA!
David W. Deamer, UC Santa Cruz
A focus of our research is to assemble a molecular system in the laboratory that has the properties of the living state. This effort forces us to think about the definition of life, and in my talk I will discuss the logic that will allow us to decide whether a complex molecular system is 'alive.' Such research also provides an important perspective on how life may have begun on the early Earth, and whether simple forms of life could have originated on other planetary bodies such as Mars and Europa.
Check out Dr. Deamer's paper on HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN? THE SELF-ASSEMBLY OF ORGANIC MOLECULES AND THE ORIGIN OF CELLULAR LIFE.
- The Hunt for Our Most Ancient Ancestors in Stinky
Berkeley MudMolecular Surveys of Uncultivated Protists
Scott Dawson, UC Berkeley
In recent years, environmental molecular surveys of microbial diversity have resulted in a profound change in our conception of the diversity of living microbes. This new information enables a better understanding of the evolution of life on Earth. Our studies focus on the identification of novel eukaryotic microbes (protists) in natural environments without oxygen. Results from three such surveys have indicated an abundance of previously undescribed protists, including what we believe to be roughly eight novel eukaryotic kingdomsas different from each other as from plants, animals, or fungi. Understanding the nature of the evolutionary relationships among these protists provides a new framework for the evolution of the eukaryotic cell.
See Scott's presentation on LESSONS IN THE DIVERSITY AND EVOLUTION OF EUKARYOTES.
- The First Animals
Jere H. Lipps, UC Berkeley
Animals first appeared in the fossil record a little less than 600 million years ago, as soft-bodied forms of great variety. Sixty million years later, a burst of evolution produced skeleton-bearing animals, algae and protists, often referred to as the Cambrian Explosion. These events are intimately tied to massive changes in Earth's oceanography and climate.
Read MORE about Dr. Lipps' ideas on The Radiation of the First Animals in an on-line forum on evolution presented by Access Excellence.
- Plants and Their Predators Through Time
Bruce H. Tiffney, UC Santa Barbara
A ramble through the positive and negative (from the plant's point of view) interactions between terrestrial plants and those insects and vertebrates who feed upon them. Animals influence the success of plants through dispersal of pollen or seeds, while plants influence animals by providing shelter, microclimatic amelioration and food. But who is in charge here, the plant or the animal? Hint: Your speaker is a botanist!
Read Dr. Tiffney's TALK OUTLINE and examine TWO GRAPHICS showing (1) a simple time line of plant predation and (2) the relationship of plant diversification and the phylogeny of vertebrate plant predators. Also see an outline addressing the question: WHAT IS SCIENCE?, Dr. Tiffney's musings about THE CHURCH AND SCIENCE, and SCIENCE AND CHRISTIANITY: TWO PERTINENT REFERENCES.
- Organizing Organisms: Making Sense
of Evolution Using Systematics
Sandra Carlson, UC Davis
The diversity of life is truly awesome; some might say unknowable. Fortunately, systematic methods exist that allow us to organize this diversity by identifying patterns of similarity and difference in morphology, genetics, behavior, and development that are generated by the process of descent from a common ancestor. I will present a brief introduction to the philosophy and methods of systematic biology and paleobiology, and hope to convince you that having an understanding of the ancestry of organisms provides a fundamentally important insight into the process of evolution.
Read Dr. Carlson's paper on EVOLUTION AND SYSTEMATICS.
- Creating a Curriculum in Evolution and Teaching Conceptions Instead of Misconceptions
Kevin Padian, UC Berkeley
There are many possible ways to explain the various subfields and lines of evidence that relate to our contemporary understanding of evolution. This model suggests an integration of the patterns and processes of evolution, beginning with how evolution came to be understood historically, and how recent discoveries and technological advances have supported this understanding. In addition to enabling you to tell a good story, this approach offers possibilities of articulating with history, social science, literature, and mathematics.
See Dr. Padian's OUTLINE on Creating a Curriculum in Evolution.
- Human Evolution: A View from Africa
Tim White, UC Berkeley
Discoveries made during the last decade of the 20th century have dramatically altered conceptions of human origins and evolution. The Middle Awash of Ethiopia's Afar Triangle is a natural laboratory for studies of faunal and floral evolution in Africa. Five and a half million years of human evolution have been revealed by investigations of sediments in the study area. Professor White will describe the continuing fieldwork and discuss the significance of the results for the understanding of our many African origins.