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You can't make an omelet...

By | June 20, 2005

Whitehead biologist Rudolf Jaenisch spoke at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia this Friday sharing with an audience of about 300 his thoughts on nuclear reprogramming (http://www.the-scientist.com/2005/4/25/13/1), and the promise of therapeutic cloning. Consistent with his former arguments and testimony before congress in 2001, he argued that human reproductive cloning is dangerous to the extent that it could be considered impossible. From this, he reasoned that critics worried about

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Individuality, Evolution, and Dancing

By | June 13, 2005

What is the unit of evolution, the level of life upon which natural selection acts? A geneticist would say the gene; Charles Darwin saw it in the unique populations on the Galapagos. On Friday, Leticia Aviles, associate professor of zoology at the University of British Columbia, singled out the individual as dividing the cellular from the group level. ?But what an individual is depends on one's frame of reference,? she said, and the level at which natural selection acts remains an unresolved is

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Boobies Delight and a Sea Lion in Distress

By | June 12, 2005

Today we saw Darwin?s classroom, finally exploring San Cristobal island after days of teasing from the sea lions we pass on the way to the conference center. Early in the morning we packed into open air trucks that took us to a tortoise preserve, along the way seeing some of the 300 or so plant species that have invaded the island over the past two centuries. Each island has its own species of tortoise, and it is rumored that one robust specimen, named Harriet, is still alive somewhere in Austra

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A Recurrent Theme

By | June 11, 2005

I just had dinner with a Drosophila geneticist, an historian of science specializing in taxonomy, a paleontologist whose expertise is trilobites, and a developmental biologist who is using sea anemone genome data to map mutants, the opposite of the way things were done when I was in graduate school. By now, we all pretty much know one another, and when I looked over at the other tables, I noted the eclectic mixes. Everyone here is talking about it, how this meeting is like no other. AAAS (Am

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Darwin's (and Grants') Finches

By | June 11, 2005

This morning came the talk that everyone had been waiting for - Princeton professors Peter and Rosemary Grant presented their 33-year project on the adaptive radiation of Darwin's finches on the Galapagos. When they took the stage, the local media surged forward as attendees packed the room. Peter Grant began at the beginning: ?Two to 3 million years ago, an ancestral group of finches flew from the mainland to the islands at a time of great volcanic activity. They encountered an environment

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Of Fungi, Santa, and Britney Spears

By | June 11, 2005

It's odd to be on this island that evokes images of Darwin and to hear talks in which 21st century genomics intersects 19th century ideas about naturalselection and evolution. For this reason, Mary Jane West-Eberhard of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, chair of the unnamed afternoon session, dubbed it ?Interesting New Fields That Charles Darwin Might Have Liked? - rather than the buzzwordy evo-devo. One talk that Darwin would have liked, from Ken Wolfe of Trinity College

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World Summit on Evolution : Day One

By | June 10, 2005

The first full day of the World Summit on Evolution: Galapagos 2005, on the island of San Cristobal, opened to a refreshed group of 150 biologists, representing 19 nations, just emerged from a travel-induced stupor. The talks went from the origin of life to human evolution, with various speakers calculating their rate of coverage at about 100 million years per minute. Only a year in planning, the meeting is the brainchild of a handful of people, spearheaded by Carlos Montufar, president of t

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Miami International Airport

By | June 9, 2005

I am sitting on the floor at Miami International Airport, laptop plugged into a post, scoping out the people waiting at the gate. Who are the other biologists in the crowd? Not the best or worst dressed, but probably the casual few with laptops perched atop well-worn jeans. We are headed to the Galapagos Islands for a four-day ?World Summit on Evolution?, hosted by the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador. There will be 150 of us, all that San Cristobal can handle ? with accommodations de

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