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Speaker Series by Semester Darwin Day 2017

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"Origin of Life and the RNA World""Origin of Life and the RNA World"darwin_day_hal_white_2017<img alt="" src="/darwin-day-sub-site/PublishingImages/Darwin%20Day%202017/Hal%20White-%20%20fetter_090826.jpg" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><p>​Prior to his recent retirement, Hal White earned his living as a Professor of Biochemistry in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry where he worked since 1971.  Much of his research, teaching, and natural history pursuits have been motivated by an encompassing interest in evolution ranging from the molecular to the organismal. As a high school student, he roamed the woods of central Pennsylvania, worked part time in a <em>Drosophila</em>genetics lab, and first read Darwin's <em>Origin of Species</em>. Later his research focused on comparative biochemistry of dehydrogenase enzymes and the evolution of vitamin-transport proteins. He was one of the first people to recognize the possibility of an RNA World. Throughout his career at the University of Delaware, he taught a course in Biochemical Evolution. He served on the editorial board of the <em>Journal of Molecular Evolution</em> for 20 years.</p>2017-02-13T05:00:00Z<p>​Our knowledge of the genetic and biochemical basis of evolution centered on DNA enables us to understand the unity of life on earth.  DNA provides the molecular continuity that connects us and all other organisms to our distant ancestors—anaerobic microorganisms living around 3.5 billion years ago. But before the last universal common ancestor (LUCA), where did the DNA come from? How do we connect the primordial chemical soup of small biochemically important molecules produced in the classic Miller-Urey experiment to the complex macromolecules in our earliest ancestors? The "warm little pond" envisioned almost 150 years ago by Darwin for the origin of life may have some relevance, but it was pure speculation with little empirical evidence. While we may never know the actual path to life, constructing scientifically reasonable models for the process has occupied great minds and has narrowed the conceptual gap. As Francis Crick wrote, "to show no interest in the subject is to be truly uneducated." In recent years, consensus has developed around the RNA World hypothesis as the precursor and one step in the evolution of our DNA World. I will review the evidence for that hypothesis based on projecting back in time from existing life and highlight some of the major conceptual challenges that remain in generating a reasonable model for the emergence of the biosphere from the inorganic world of the geosphere. </p>
“An excellent Sea-boat: Darwin, Fitzroy, and the Beagle"“An excellent Sea-boat: Darwin, Fitzroy, and the Beagle"excellent-sea-boat-lauren-morgens<img alt="" src="/darwin-day-sub-site/PublishingImages/Darwin%20Day%202017/Lauren_Morgans.jpg" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><p>Captain Lauren Morgens, a Connecticut native who began sailing on Long Island Sound when she was eight years old, has been in command of the 17th-century replica tall ship <em>Kalmar Nyckel </em>since 2007.  While pursuing her BA in Anthropology at Cornell, Lauren spent a semester on a tall ship, studying oceanography and nautical science.  This experience sparked a career in tall ships.  Lauren worked on ships in both the Atlantic and Pacific and spent four months aboard the three-masted barque <em>Europa </em>sailing from San Diego around Cape Horn to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island, and Tierra del Fuego.  After settling in Delaware with the Kalmar Nyckel, Lauren has become a premier authority on the sailing and rigging of 17th-century sailing ships.​</p>2017-02-13T05:00:00Z<p>​<strong>Abstract:</strong>The voyage of the Beagle was a scientific mission that went far beyond the primary surveying goals of the expedition. Intellectual curiosity on board touched topics both practical and academic, and deeply influenced our understanding of meteorology, geology, and of course, natural history. While Darwin faced criticism later in his career in response to his more revolutionary ideas, the spirit of the expedition that gave birth to his theory was one of open scientific dialogue, facilitated by Captain Fitzroy, himself a gifted intellectual. In this talk we consider the <em>Beagle</em> herself, her expedition, and her crew as they provided a platform for the development of the future of science.​</p>
“An excellent Sea-boat: Darwin, Fitzroy, and the Beagle"“An excellent Sea-boat: Darwin, Fitzroy, and the Beagle"excellent-sea-boat-matthew-sarver<img alt="" src="/darwin-day-sub-site/PublishingImages/Darwin%20Day%202017/Matthew_Sarver2.jpg" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><p>An avid birder for 20 years, Matt is currently Conservation Chair of the Delmarva Ornithological Society, and serves on the boards of several state and regional professional societies and committees in the fields of science and conservation.</p><p>Matt has an avocational interest in history, especially 17th century maritime shipbuilding, rigging, and material culture. He is a volunteer crew member and deck chief aboard the Kalmar Nyckel, and had recently led the installation of native, sustainable landscaping at the Kalmar Nyckel Shipyard in Wilmington.</p>2017-02-13T05:00:00Z<p>​<strong>Abstract:</strong>The voyage of the Beagle was a scientific mission that went far beyond the primary surveying goals of the expedition. Intellectual curiosity on board touched topics both practical and academic, and deeply influenced our understanding of meteorology, geology, and of course, natural history. While Darwin faced criticism later in his career in response to his more revolutionary ideas, the spirit of the expedition that gave birth to his theory was one of open scientific dialogue, facilitated by Captain Fitzroy, himself a gifted intellectual. In this talk we consider the <em>Beagle</em> herself, her expedition, and her crew as they provided a platform for the development of the future of science.​Matthew Sarver, an Ecological Society of America Certified Ecologist, is owner of Sarver Ecological, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in conservation and restoration planning and wildlife habitat. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Biological Sciences, cum laude, from Cornell University with a concentration in Neurobiology and Animal Behavior. Matt's clients have included state agencies, conservation NGOs, and private landowners.</p>
"Saving the World’s Most Peaceful Primate""Saving the World’s Most Peaceful Primate"saving-the-worlds-most-peaceful-primate-karen-strier<img alt="" src="/darwin-day-sub-site/PublishingImages/Darwin%20Day%202017/Strier_photo1-728x1024.jpg" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><p>​Karen B. Strier is Vilas Research Professor and Irven DeVore Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  After graduating from Swarthmore College in 1980, she received her MA in 1981 and her PhD in 1986 in Anthropology from Harvard University.  She is an international authority on the endangered northern muriqui monkey, which she has been studying in the Brazilian Atlantic forest since 1982. Her pioneering, long-term field research has been critical to conservation efforts on behalf of this species, and has been influential in broadening comparative perspectives on primate behavioral and ecological diversity.  She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was elected to membership in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.  She received an Honorary Degree (Doctorate of Science) from the University of Chicago, and Distinguished Primatologist Awards from the American Primatological Society and the Midwestern Primate Interest Group.  She has been awarded various research, teaching, and service awards from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She has also been honored with Lifetime Honorary Memberships from the Brazilian Primatological Society and the Latin American Primatological Society, and with Honorary Citizenship of the city of Caratinga, in Minas Gerais, Brazil. She has authored or co-authored more than 100 publications, in addition to various co-authored and edited volumes and two single-authored books, <em>Faces in the Forest: The Endangered Muriqui Monkeys of Brazil</em>  and <em>Primate Behavioral Ecology, 5</em><em>th</em><em> edition</em>.  She was recently elected as the President of the International Primatological Society (2016-2020).</p>2017-02-13T05:00:00Z<p>​<strong>Abstract:</strong>More than half of the world's primates are now threatened with extinction as a result of habitat loss, hunting pressures, and the multi-faceted effects of global climate change.  Yet, despite these ongoing challenges, long-term studies of wild primate populations are revealing unexpected levels of behavioral flexibility that may ultimately contribute to their survival. To illustrate the potential for resilience of primates, I will draw on the behavioral, ecological, and demographic changes documented during my 34-year long field study of a growing population of the critically endangered northern muriqui (<em>Brachyteles hypoxanthus</em>), whose uniquely egalitarian societies and extraordinary levels of tolerance toward one another make them the most peaceful primates on the planet. As their population has grown from about 60 to some 350 individuals in one of the last remaining fragments of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, the muriquis have shifted their grouping patterns and use of vertical space, which may have affected their fertility. These changes appear to have buffered muriquis from fluctuating ecological and demographic conditions, and provide clues into what we can do to insure their survival and that of other primates in our rapidly changing world. </p>
"Writing Darwin, Reading Darwin""Writing Darwin, Reading Darwin"writing-darwin-siobhan-carroll<img alt="" src="/darwin-day-sub-site/PublishingImages/Darwin%20Day%202017/SDIM5422.jpg" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><p>​Siobhan Carroll is an associate professor of English at the University of Delaware. Her first book, An Empire of Air and Water: Uncolonizable Space in the British Imagination, 1750-1850, describes the relevance of  "uncolonizable" geographies such as the North Pole and the atmosphere to  British imperialism. Her current book project examines the relationship between human agency and nature in the long 19th century.</p>2017-02-13T05:00:00Z<strong>Abstract:</strong><p>Carroll's talk will be about how Darwin positioned himself as an author and how he was subsequently received by 19thC literary society.​</p>
"Walking in Darwin’s Footsteps: the Plants of the Galapagos Islands""Walking in Darwin’s Footsteps: the Plants of the Galapagos Islands"darwins-footsteps-thomas-evans<img alt="" src="/darwin-day-sub-site/PublishingImages/Darwin%20Day%202017/tom-evans.jpg" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><p>Dr. Tom Evans received his B.S. and M.S. in botany and his Ph.D. in botany and plant pathology from Michigan State University in 1985.  Dr. Evans has spent 30 years at the University of Delaware in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources where he is professor of botany and plant pathology.   Dr. Evans is a leader both nationally and internationally in plant pathology and food security and is known for his passionate delivery of programs in plant health in developing countries.   Dr. Evans has maintained a strong international program focused on food security throughout his career working in Ecuador, Morocco, Egypt, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.   Tom served as the director of 10 UD Winterim study abroad programs Ecuador in the Galapagos teaching Flora of the Ecuador and Galapagos to more than 200 students over the years.  He currently serves the Vice-President of the International Society for Plant Pathology and as organizing chair for the International Congress of Plant Pathology to be held in Boston in 2018.​​</p>2017-02-13T05:00:00Z<p>​<strong>Abstract:  </strong>Charles Darwin through his evolutionary theory proposed that all living things were "netted together" by a common ancestry.  Few people appreciate that Darwin was also a preeminent botanist.  Darwin's study of the plant kingdom was his life-long passion and botany was the center of each stage of his life.  As an undergraduate he collected plant specimens from Wale's for his professor's herbarium and his study at Cambridge was greatly influenced by the botanist John S. Henslow.   During the voyage of the Beagle in the Galapagos he collected plants from each of the four islands he visited.  Darwin had an understanding of the links between the flora and fauna of the Galapagos and the nearby coast of Ecuador.  Darwin said that he "collected every plant which he could see that was in flower, and it was flowering season".  Over his life Darwin published six books on a wide range of botanical topics and was in regular correspondence with famous botanists Asa Gray and Joseph Hooker.  Plants came before the finches in the birth of Darwinian evolution.  The plant specimens collected by Darwin in the Galapagos number well over 200 and, according to some, make up the single most influential natural history collection of live organisms in the history of science.  Today we walk in the footsteps of Darwin to look at the plants that helped inform his theory of evolution. </p>
"Molecular Evolution, Systems Biology and Precision Medicine""Molecular Evolution, Systems Biology and Precision Medicine"molecular-evolution-cathy-wu<img alt="" src="/darwin-day-sub-site/PublishingImages/Darwin%20Day%202017/Cathy%20WU.png" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><p>​Dr. Cathy Wu is the Edward G. Jefferson Chair and Director of the Center for Bioinformatics & Computational Biology (CBCB) at the University of Delaware. She has conducted bioinformatics and computational biology research for 25 years and has led or co-led several large multi-institutional Consortium grant projects funded by NIH, NSF and DOE. As the Director of the Protein Information Resource (PIR), Dr. Wu co-founded the international UniProt Consortium in 2002, which has become a central hub for protein sequence and function with about 5 million page views per month from over 500,000 unique sites worldwide. Recognized as a “Highly Cited Researcher” (top 1%) by Thomson Reuters, she has published about 250 peer-reviewed papers, with over 21,800 citations and an h-index of 50. Her research encompasses genomic and protein annotation, biomedical text mining and ontology, systems biology, big data analytics, and translational bioinformatics. The CBCB she established fosters multidisciplinary research collaborations, serves as the home of the UD Bioinformatics Master’s and PhD degree programs, and provides cutting-edge bioinformatics infrastructure, including Big Data and clinical genomics analytics capabilities for precision medicine.</p>2017-02-13T05:00:00Z<p>​<strong>Abstract:</strong>“There is a tremendous amount of information regarding the evolutionary history and biochemical function implicit in each sequence and the number of known sequences is growing explosively” (Margaret Dayhoff, 1967). The Atlas of Protein Sequence and Structure and the probability model of protein evolution formulated by Dayhoff has laid the foundation for modern day bioinformatics. With the advent of next-generation sequencing (NGS) and other high-throughput omics technologies, systems integration is becoming the driving force for the 21st century biology and medicine. This talk will highlight bioinformatics collaborative projects in systems biology and genomic medicine being conducted at the Protein Information Resource (PIR) and the Center for Bioinformatics & Computational Biology (CBCB)—tracing its root to the Atlas and the PIR Protein Sequence Database.</p>
"The Agricultural Revolution: The Cultural Side of Biocultural Evolution""The Agricultural Revolution: The Cultural Side of Biocultural Evolution"the-agricultural-revolution-tom-rocek<img alt="" src="/darwin-day-sub-site/PublishingImages/Darwin%20Day%202017/Rocek_Thomas-014.jpg" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><p>​Tom Rocek received his Ph.D. from t​he University of Michigan in 1985, was a fellow at the School of American Research (now School of Advanced Research) in Santa Fe 1985-1986, a visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Oregon State University 1986-1987, and then joined the University of Delaware where he is currently an Associate Professor of Anthropology.  His research has included studies of historical Navajo settlements on the Navajo Nation (<em>Navajo Multi-Household Social Units: Archaeology on Black Mesa, Arizona</em>; University of Arizona Press, 1995) and Formative through Late Prehistoric research in New Mexico, particularly within the Jornada branch of the Mogollon archaeological culture (<em>The Henderson Site Burials: Glimpses of a Late Prehistoric Population in the Pecos </em><em>Valley</em>,with John Speth.  Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, 1986; <em>Diversity on the Edge of the Southwest: Late Hunter-gatherers and Farmers of the Jornada Mogollon</em> with Nancy Kenmotsu (editors) [in prep]; <em>The Dunlap-Salazar Site</em> [in prep]).  His research interests include middle-range societies, agricultural origins, mobility and sedentism, quantitative analysis, and particularly comparative approaches to archaeological analysis (<em>Seasonality and Sedentism : Archaeological Perspectives from Old and New World Sites</em>, with Bar-Yosef (editors), Peabody Museum, Harvard University), 2004.  Most recently, this comparative interests have included both the Formative period in the Southwestern United States and the Neolithic period in the Czech Republic.  He is a member of the Society for American Archaeology, the American Anthropological Association, the European Association of Archaeologists, the Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society and the Archaeological Society of New Mexico. </p>2017-02-13T05:00:00Z<p>​<strong>Abstract:</strong>In developing his theory of natural selection, Darwin drew significant insights from the modification of plants and animals under the cultural practices of domestication; in fact the first chapter of Origin of Species is entitled “Variation Under Domestication.”  But here I describe insights in the other direction: the consequences of that process of plant and animal domestication on human culture.  The so called “agricultural revolution” is a classic examples of the biocultural feedback that characterizes the human adaptation in which human-caused changes to other organisms in turn transformed human society.  In this talk I describe examples of this process and parallels seen independently in the Americas and in the Old World.</p>
"Mysterious villains or selfish servers? Revising our view of viruses""Mysterious villains or selfish servers? Revising our view of viruses"mysterious-villians-eric-wommack<img alt="" src="/darwin-day-sub-site/PublishingImages/Darwin%20Day%202017/wommack.jpg" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><p>Eric Wommack graduated Summa Cum Laude from Emory University with bachelor degrees in Biological Sciences and Economics. Realizing that the number of economic theories always exceeds the number of economists and ignoring significant opportunity costs, he chose the more glamorous, albeit indigent, path of graduate work in the life sciences.  After graduating from Emory he was awarded a Bobby Jones Fellowship to pursue a M.Sc. in Physiology under the mentorship of Prof. Ian Johnson at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. After obtaining his M.Sc. and raising his golf game from abysmal to lousy, he left St. Andrews and ultimately obtained a Ph.D. exploring the role of viruses in marine ecosystems under the mentorship of Prof. Rita R. Colwell at the University of Maryland.  He was awarded a National Research Council fellowship for post-doctoral work investigating microbial degradation of chiral pesticides under the mentorship of David Lewis (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and Prof. Robert Hodson at the University of Georgia.  He is now a Full Professor at the University of Delaware and subjects his students to the endless toil of digging through metagenomic sequence data to expand understanding of the biological capabilities and ecological roles of viruses within natural ecosystems.​​</p>2017-02-13T05:00:00Z<p>​<strong>Abstract:</strong>​The history of scientific engagement with viruses has been mostly adversarial. At best we’ve viewed viruses as parasites, using cells as factories for making more viruses and offering nothing in return.  At worst we’ve seen viruses as lethal killers bent on destruction. But, imagine a world without viruses. Only recently, we would have cheered at the thought.  However, enlightened views coming from observations of viruses within ecosystems and even the human genome now call us to recognize the deep-rooted evolutionary connections between viruses and cells and the critical services viruses perform in support of cellular life.  This talk will highlight aspects of our extraordinary new understanding of viruses on Earth, their roles in global ecosystems, and the vast unknown pool of genetic diversity contained within their ranks.</p>
"Ancient organisms in modern places: Microbes in the built environment""Ancient organisms in modern places: Microbes in the built environment"ancient-organisms-julia-maresca<img alt="" src="/darwin-day-sub-site/PublishingImages/Darwin%20Day%202017/Maresca_EFGP%20(1).jpg" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><p>I use high-throughput sequencing, bacterial genetics, and physiology to examine microbial responses to environmental inputs. Current projects in my lab include analysis of bacterial communities in and on weathering concrete, visualization of rhodopsins in aquatic environments, light-sensing by heterotrophic Actinobacteria, and phosphorus acquisition in in an oligotrophic ferruginous tropical lake.​​</p>2017-02-13T05:00:00Z<p>​<strong>Abstract:</strong>Microbes have been present for almost all of Earth's history, and shaped the composition of our earth, water, and air. In fact, we have not yet found an environment that is free of microbes: they live not just in soil and water, but in and on apparently inhospitable environments such as acidic waters, boiling geysers, the human stomach, or deep under the seafloor. As humans build, we create novel environments both indoors and outdoors, which microbes have invaded rapidly. Their presence in building materials, HVAC systems, and plumbing can affect human health, system function, and structural integrity, and has potential uses in a variety of fields.​</p>
Scientist, Scholar and Scoundrel: A Bibliographical Investigation of the Life and Exploits of Count Guglielmo LibriScientist, Scholar and Scoundrel: A Bibliographical Investigation of the Life and Exploits of Count Guglielmo Librijeremy-m-norman-darwin-day<img alt="" src="/darwin-day-sub-site/PublishingImages/Darwin%20Day%202017/norman.jpg" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><p>Norman is an antiquarian bookseller, bibliographer, appraiser, writer and collector specializing in the history of science, medicine, technology, and the history of media. He is the creator of four websites: <a href=""></a>, <a href=""></a>, <a href=""></a>and <a href="">​</a>.</p><p>He is also the author of <em>Scientist, Scholar and Scoundrel: A Bibliographical Investigation of the Life and Exploits of Count Guglielmo Libri</em> (2013) and also the co-author, with Diana H. Hook, of <em>The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine</em> (1991) and <em>Origins of Cyberspace: A Library on the History of Computing, Networking and Telecommunications</em> (2002). Norman is the editor of <em>From Gutenberg to the Internet: A Sourcebook on the History of Information Technology</em> (2005).</p><p>His main personal collecting interests focus on the discovery of human origins and on the development of mass media in the 19th century.</p>2017-02-13T05:00:00Z

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