2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

Darwin Day brings renowned evolutionary biologist to U of C

By Susan Anderson, February 5 2015 —

Evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski will speak at the University of Calgary on Friday, Feb. 6. His talk is part of the biology department’s 30th annual Darwin Day this year celebrating Charles Darwin’s 206th birthday.

Lenski has experimented on E. coli for 25 years, continuously growing cultures for over 60,000 generations. It would take over a million years to have the same number of human generations.

Lenski’s work has generated volumes of data, allowing him to watch evolution in real time.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to get hard evidence and explicitly test predictions about evolutionary theory,” said Sean Rogers, associate professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Calgary.

Lenski can freeze the bacteria and then bring it back years later.

“You can literally go back in time and look at how the adapted colonies compete against the ancestral colonies,” Rogers said.

His experiment shows that the E. coli cultures he’s evolved over 25 years can grow on the chemical citrate, something normal E. coli can’t do. Its inability to grow on citrate is a defining characteristic of the bacteria. Lenski can now figure out how that pathway evolved.

Rogers said he likes the experimental focus of Lenski’s work.

“I like the ability to ask a question, set up an experiment that will test that question and then have the empirical evidence to either support or reject a given hypothesis.”

Research in evolution and genomics is producing discoveries almost every week. Humans share two to three per cent of our DNA with neanderthals and there is a genetic link between our DNA and the amount of coffee that people drink.

Rogers has been organizing Darwin Day for six years. He wants the lecture to be accessible to the public instead of a niche biology audience.

“It’s important to engage the public because the kinds of questions that we can ask in evolutionary biology have such an impact. The application of evolution to health, to agriculture, to conservation — policies can be made based on discoveries in evolutionary biology,” Rogers said.


Hiring | Staff | Advertising | Contact | PDF version | Archive | Volunteer | SU

The Gauntlet