Archive for the 'Humans' Category

Iowa City Darwin Day 2017

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

The stellar presenters at the Iowa City Darwin Day 2017 were a privilege to hear at the 10th annual event to celebrate Charles Darwin’s 209th birthday yesterday afternoon and this morning. We went to both sessions. The Iowa City event was a belated birthday celebration. Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 – the same day as Abraham Lincoln.

One of the species of Darwin’s finches (above) from Santa Cruz Island is in tribute of hearing Peter and Rosemary Grant of Princeton University speak about their 40 plus year adventure studying the Darwin’s finches on Isla Daphne Major of the northern side of Santa Cruz. Though it has been several years since they camped on Isla Daphne Major, they continue to study the DNA sequences from the blood samples they collected over many years of fieldwork. The sequencing is done by a group in Sweden with whom they collaborate.

We are not certain of which species the female above is but we think she is one of the ground finches. We made a trip to the Galapagos Islands in 2012. She was bouncing up to get the seeds at the center top of the photo. Her beak looks large and strong enough to tackle much larger seeds. The beaks of the various finch species on the Galapagos Islands have evolved to eat seeds of varying sizes and/or to eat nectar and pollen as well as seeds.

Richard Wrangham of Harvard University spoke on the genetic changes the domestication of animals reveals and how bonobos and humans may have self-domesticated themselves. Today he addressed the theory that control of fire and cooking of food may have influenced a primate on its way to becoming homo sapien.

Mary Kosloski of the University of Iowa does work with modern and fossil snails and crabs. She discussed how a super predator crab, whose right claw can exert 19,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, changed a snail from having a right-handed shell to a left-handed one. It was not by exerting pressure on the shell but that the rare left-handed snails lived to reproduce (if they found a left-handed mate) because the crab could not extract the snail with its right claw.

Anne Fausto-Sterling of Brown University spoke about gender identity and expression yesterday. The interaction of nature and nurture may determine how genes are expressed. Today her talk about diversity and its contribution to science so that people do not become scientifically ignorant. She, like many scientists, is very concerned because there seems to be a deliberate social and political effort to keep people and legislatures from having the information they need to make rational decisions about human and earth welfare.

As we have the same worries, we were heartened that this was spoken in the context of a celebration of one of the most important and productive minds in science. Should he come back today to see what is now possible, if people are not willfully ignorant, Mr. Darwin would be amazed and vindicated.