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In the Light of Evolution: Adaptation and Complex Design

Organized by John C. Avise and Francisco J. Ayala

December 1-2, 2006
Irvine, CA

Meeting Overview:
Darwin’s elucidation of natural selection was one of the great intellectual achievements in the history of science, revolutionizing thought not only in biology but also in philosophical and ideological realms. No longer were explanations for the origin and marvelous adaptations of organisms to be sought in terms of supernatural or extranatural causation. A century-and-a-half after Darwin, the challenge of understanding nature’s complex design remains in many regards in its infancy. For example, only recently has it become possible to conduct whole-genome analyses in ways that may permit the discovery of heretofore unspecified structural and regulatory genes contributing to the molecular assembly of complex organismal phenotypes. Scientific progress is occurring on many empirical and conceptual fronts. New discoveries in paleontology and developmental biology have significantly improved our understanding of the intermediate stages of seemingly complex evolutionary transitions. Recent developments in evolutionary genetic theory, such as formal network analysis, have opened exciting new avenues for exploring the geneses and maintenance of biological complexity at the levels of genetic and metabolic pathways.

Scientific advances are coming at a time of resurgent societal interest in supernatural explanations for biological complexity. The goal of the colloquium is to synthesize recent empirical findings and conceptual approaches towards understanding the evolutionary origins and maintenance of complex adaptations.

Video Available

Dec 1

Session I: Complexity and Improbability
John C. Avise, University of California, Irvine, Introduction and Chair

Biological Design in Science Classrooms and the Public Arena
Eugenie C. Scott, National Center for Science Education, Berkeley, CA

 Origins of Biological Complexity and Order
Robert M. Hazen, Geophysical Laboratory, Washington, DC and George Mason University

 Symbiosis as a Source of Complexity in Organisms
Nancy A. Moran, University of Arizona, Tucson

 Insect Societies as Divided Organisms: the Complexities of Purpose and Cross-purpose
Joan E. Strassmann, Rice University

Session II: Evolutionary Transitions in Organismal Design
Nancy A. Moran, University of Arizona, Tucson, Chair

The Origin of Life and the Emergence of Darwinian Evolution
Jack W. Szostak, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston

Cooperation and Conflict: Multicellularity
Richard E. Michod, University of Arizona, Tucson

Systems Biology Meets Population Genetics
Andrew G. Clark, Cornell University

 Plant Domestication, a Unique Opportunity to Identify the Genetic Basis of Adaptation
Brandon Gaut, University of California, Irvine

Banquet Lecture
John C. Avise, University of California, Irvine, Introduction

 Design without Designer
Francisco Ayala, University of California, Irvine


Dec 2

Session III: Developmental Patterns and Genetic Controls
Joan E. Strassmann, Rice University, Chair

 Developmental Compartments and Complex Body Plans
Sean B. Carroll, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Gene Hierarchies and Gene Circuits
Adam Wilkins, Editor, BioEssays, Cambridge, UK

 The Theory of Faciliated Variation
John C. Gerhart, University of California, Berkeley

 Complexity Myths
Michael Lynch, Indiana University, Bloomington

Session IV: Case Studies in Adaptive Evolution
Francisco J. Ayala, University of California, Irvine, Chair

 The Evolution of Eye Development
Adriana Briscoe, University of California, Irvine

 Adaptation and Trade-Off
Albert Bennett, University of California, Irvine

 On the Origin and Evolutionary Diversification of Beetle Horns
Douglas J. Emlen, University of Montana, Missoula

 Routes to Functional Adaptation
Cynthia M. Beall, Case Western Reserve University

Concluding Remarks
Francisco J. Ayala, University of California, Irvine

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