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Thinking About Evolution

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Date and time Jan 11, 2007
from 04:10 PM to 05:00 PM
Location McLennan Physics (MP) 102
Host Stephen Morris

Michael Brenner

Natural selection drives evolutionary change by selecting  individuals on the basis of their fitness. Fitness is a result of complex traits. These traits have a genetic origin, and  much progress has been made and is being made on understanding how  evolution acts on the genes themselves. However, much less is known about the action of evolution on phenotype.  Tomes have been written  about this question but it is in general quite qualitative.   Theoretical discussions tend to be in the form of 'just so stories'  which are designed to explain exactly the facts.  I will discuss  our recent efforts to learn to think about these questions, in the  context of several examples. I will describe several just-so  stories that we have  recently worked out: the first on the  morphology of whale flippers, the second on the shapes of fungal  spores. I will discuss the strengths and limitations of these  studies, and use this as motivation to move on to our recent  efforts to understand how evolution acts on two classes of proteins  for which the relationship between genotype and phenotype is  reasonably well understood: hemoglobin, and voltage gated sodium  channels. In these cases I will argue there is the potential to  move beyond just-so stories and understand in quantitative detail  basic evolutionary mechanisms.

fig-brenner.jpg

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MP3 recording of talk

Contact Name Stephen Morris
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