Distinguished Speaker Series

All talks are free and open to the public. A selected bibliography and brief speaker biographies are available in the Resource section of this web site.

Friday, January 13

The quest for the genes that make us human

Svante Pääbo, Max-Planck Institute of Evolutionary
Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
8 pm, Chemistry 1800
Reception following in Chemistry atrium

One approach to understanding what makes humans unique as a species is to perform structural and functional comparisons between the genomes of humans and our closest evolutionary relatives, the great apes. Recently, the draft sequence of the chimpanzee genome has opened up new possibilities in this area. I will describe work that compares the DNA sequences and activities of human and chimpanzee genes and discuss evidence that suggests that genes expressed in the brain may have been particularly important during human evolution.

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Wednesday, January 25

Intelligent Design and the Creationism/Evolution Controversy

Eugenie Scott, National Center for Science Education
7 pm, Chemistry 1800
Reception following in Chemistry atrium

Eugenie Scott's January 25 talk was video-taped and each segment is
available for you to view on your computer as a webstreamed file. Click on
the word "webstream" below.

Windows users should have no trouble opening the file. Mac users need to
install Windows Media Player, available by clicking here.


"Intelligent Design" (ID) is a new form of creationism that emerged after legal decisions in the 1980s hampered the inclusion of "creation science" in the public school curriculum. ID consists of a scientific/scholarly effort, and a politico-religious movement of "cultural renewal." In the 20 years since ID appeared, there has been no evidence of it being used to solve problems in biology. Although the scientific/scholarly part of ID has been a failure, the "cultural renewal" part of ID has been a success, as supporters of ID seek "restoration" of a theistic sensibility in American culture to replace what they consider an overemphasis on secularism.

Wednesday, February 1

Forty years of thinking about the origins of the human lineage

David Pilbeam. Harvard University
7 pm, Chemistry 1800
Reception following in Chemistry atrium

Ideas about when and where the first hominids evolved, why they evolved, and what they and their immediate ape ancestors looked like, changed considerably over the past half-century. In discussing these shifts I will also reflect on what it has been like to participate in this rapidly changing field.

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Wednesday, February 8

Primate and human society

Richard Wrangham, Harvard University
7 pm, Chemistry 1800
Reception following in Chemistry atrium

Human society is in some ways ape-like and in other ways unique. Our ape-like features appear explicable by the same rules that govern primate societies. Our unique traits, such as the sexual division of labor, depend on human specializations such as the adoption of cooking.

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Wednesday, March 8

The Tree of Life: Is it really a web?

W. Ford Doolittle, Dalhousie University
7 pm, Chemistry 1800
Reception following in Chemistry atrium

Darwin claimed that the history of Life can be "represented by a great tree". Many types of evidence, and especially gene sequence data, support this claim as far as complex life forms such as animals and plants are concerned. But for bacteria and archaebacteria, frequent transfer of genes across species lines complicates the picture: the pattern of relationships may be more web-like than tree-like. I will describe the evidence for this, and discuss whether or not it is appropriate to say that, in this context, Darwin was wrong.

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Wednesday, March 22

Ageing and evolutionary medicine

Linda Partridge, University College London
7 pm, Chemistry 1800
Reception following in Chemistry atrium
Recent work on the biology of ageing has led to the surprising discovery that mutations in single genes can extend lifespan in laboratory animals. These findings both challenge some of the earlier conclusions of work on the evolution of ageing and hold some promise for understanding human ageing.

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Wednesday, April 5

Exploring evolution of Darwin's Finches

Peter and Rosemary Grant, Princeton University
Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor (Note new location!)
7 pm

Fourteen species of Darwin's finches evolved on the Galápagos islands and Cocos island in the last two-three million years. We use the results of long-term field studies of Galápagos populations to help us understand this classical example of adaptive radiation.

Co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads Program and the Ann Arbor District Library

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Wednesday, April 19

Gene, organism and environment

Richard Lewontin, Harvard University
7 pm, Chemistry 1800
Reception following in Chemistry atrium

Biologists often speak of genes as “determining” organisms and of the evolution of organisms as “adaptation” of organisms to a fixed external environment. The talk will show how these oversimplifications mask the true relationship among genes, organisms and environments.

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Distinguished Speaker

Saturday Morning Physics

Origins Symposium

Film Series

Evolution & Culture
Colloquium Series

Museum of Life and Death

Special Events

Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads