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Illuminating biology: An evolutionary perspective

On 16-17 October 2008, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) will convene a special symposium and workshop for educators at the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) conference in Memphis, TN. The special symposium, which has become a successful part of each year's NABT conference, provides classroom teachers with an opportunity to hear directly from internationally recognized evolutionary biology scholars to obtain information about current evolutionary biology research that can be used in the classroom to bring science alive and make it particularly relevant to students.

The theme for the 2008 symposium is Illuminating Biology: An Evolutionary Perspective. This year's symposium focuses on the benefits of applying evolutionary theory in biological sub-disciplines where evolutionary concepts have not traditionally played a prominent role. The four speakers will provide examples of successful evolutionary-based research in biochemistry, developmental biology, molecular biology, and neurobiology. A workshop will be held the day after the symposium to provide educators with tools to bring this message back to their students.


Date: Thursday, October 16th, 2008
Time: 12:30 - 4:00 PM
Location: Memphis Cook Convention Center, Room L2
Registration: To attend the Evolution Symposium, register for the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) Professional Development Conference. Information on registration and other logistics are found at: Accredited members of the news media should contact Susan Musante at

12:30-12:40: Dr. Gordon Uno - University of Oklahoma and Chair of AIBS Education Committee

12:40-1:10: Dr. Joram Piatigorsky - National Eye Institute, NIH
Gene Sharing and Evolution: Surprising Lessons from Lens Crystallins

Piatigorsky's lab has developed the concept of "gene sharing" through their studies on lens crystallins, abundant water-soluble proteins of the transparent lens responsible for its optical, refractive properties required for focused vision. Gene sharing refers to the way that a single gene may be involved in multiple functions. Gene sharing allows proteins to serve new functions without relinquishing their original functions. Gene sharing occurs widely and appears to be a fundamental principle of evolution.

1:20-1:50: Dr. Robert Blankenship - Washington University, St. Louis, MO
Evolutionary Relationships Among Phototrophic Bacteria Deduced from Whole Genome Comparisons

The invention and perfection of photosynthesis is without question one of the true milestones in the evolution of life on Earth. The development of the ability of some photosynthetic organisms to oxidize water to form molecular oxygen changed the redox balance of the Earth and provided the energetic basis for more advanced life to develop. This talk will discuss the complex nonlinear evolutionary path that has led to the modern process of photosynthesis.

2:00-2:10: Break

2:10-2:40: Dr. Patricia Wittkopp - University of Michigan
Bringing an Evolutionary Perspective to Developmental Biology

The genetic and molecular mechanisms controlling development are the product of evolution and can influence the way in which traits evolve. This talk will discuss the ways in which an appreciation of natural history and evolutionary processes can enhance our understanding of animal development.

2:50-3:20: Dr. Georg Striedter - University of California, Irvine
Large and Complex Brains Evolved Repeatedly

Large and complex brains evolved not just in primates, but also in other taxonomic groups, including octopuses, manta rays, electric fishes, parrots, crows, dolphins, and elephants. Most of these species are highly social. Although the brains of different species share myriad similarities, they also differ in many respects. Dr. Striedter aims to understand how and why those species differences arose. The ultimate goal of this research is to test theories about how brains evolve.

3:30-3:45: Dr. Brian Wiegmann - Associate Director of Education and Outreach, National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, Durham, NC

3:45-4:00: Wrap-up


On 17 October 2008, this half-day event will build on the themes of the symposium, provide hands-on training in the effective use of curriculum and resources available for the classroom, and focus on examples from conservation biology and public health. Sponsored by AIBS and NESCent, the workshop will feature presentations by Anna Thanukos and Jennifer Collins from the Understanding Evolution project and Sam Donovan and Ethel Stanley from BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium.

Date: Friday, October 17th, 2008
Time: 8:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Location: Marriott Memphis Downtown, Memphis, TN - Knoxville Room
Registration: Anyone participating in this workshop must be registered for the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) Professional Development Conference ( and must pre-register, at no cost, ahead of time with AIBS or NESCent staff. Enrollment in this workshop is limited. To register, go to or contact Kristin Jenkins at or 919.668.4544.

Workshop Schedule:

8:00-8:20: Coffee and informal conversation
8:20-8:30: Introductions and Overview
8:30-9:40: Session 1: Evolution and Conservation
This session will focus on how whaling conservation efforts monitor commercial whale meat based on phylogenetic relationships.

9:40-9:50: Break

9:50-10:25: Small group conversations
10:25-10:45: Report back from group
10:45-12:00: Session 2: Evolution and Biocontrol
Participants will learn how systematics has been used to select biocontrol agents through a case study with paperbark trees in Florida.

Education Resources from Past Evolution Symposia

The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) has information from past evolution symposia on its website. Materials include speaker videos, educational resources, and references to facilitate the application of this information into a classroom setting. Visit the NESCent the website at: to access these free resources.


Contact: Susan Musante
202-628-1500 x249
American Institute of Biological Sciences

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