Dr Eörs Szathmáry
Inaccessible states of and algorithmic limits of evolution
Eörs Szathmáry is director of the Parmenides Centre for the Conceptual Foundations of Science (Pullach/Munich) and professor of biology at the Department of Plant Taxonomy and Ecology of Eötvös Loránd University (Budapest), where he is also the chairman of the PhD programme in evolutionary genetic and conservation biology. Professor Szathmáry’s main achievements include: (i) a mathematical description of some phases of early evolution; (ii) a scenario for the origin of the genetic code; (iii) an analysis of epistasis in terms of metabolic control theory; (iv) a demonstration of the selection consequences of parabolic growth; (v) a derivation of the optimal size of the genetic alphabet; (vi) a general framework to discuss the major transitions in evolution and (vii) the first approach to a truly Darwinian neurodynamics. Apart from books, he has published numerous papers in journals, including Nature, Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, and Journal of Theoretical Biology.
Professor Geerat J. Vermeij
Forbidden Phenotypes and Preferred Pathways: Exploring the limits of diversity
Geerat J. Vermeij is Distinguished Professor of Geology at the University of California, Davis. Born in the Netherlands, he became blind at age three. Vermeij received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1971, and since then has taught at the University of Maryland, College Park, and UC Davis. His interests are broad, ranging from parallels between evolution and economics to extinction, species invasion, molluscan taxonomy and functional morphology, major adaptive trends in the history of life, and the dynamics of adaptation. He has published six books and more than 225 papers.
Homology and Innovation: Forming and breaking limits to evolution
Dr Wagner is a native of Austria and studied Zoology and Mathematical Logics at the University of Vienna. After reaching tenure at the University of Vienna he was appointed to the Biology Department of Yale University in 1991 and is now a US citizen. He was the first chair of the new Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale and is now a founding member of the Yale Systems Biology Institute. Dr Wagner received the MacArthur Prize in 1992 and is corresponding member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences as well as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Dr Wagner’s research focuses on the mechanisms of evolutionary innovations and the evolution of development. He is also interested in population genetics, the evolution of development and conceptual foundations of evolutionary theory. He recently finished a book on Homology, Genes and Evolutionary Innovation for Princeton University Press, which will be published in the spring of 2014.
Self-domestication as an evolutionary dynamic
Richard Wrangham is the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology and Harvard College Professor at Harvard University. His major interests are chimpanzee and human behavioural ecology, the evolutionary dynamics of violence, and ape conservation. He received his Ph.D. in Zoology from Cambridge University in 1975, was a Research Fellow at King’s College (Cambridge) from 1977 to 1980, and taught at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) from 1981-1989. Since 1987 he has studied wild chimpanzee behaviour in Kibale National Park, Uganda. He has been President (2004-2008) of the International Primatological Society, and Patron of UNEP/UNESCO’s Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP). Wrangham was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1987, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the British Academy. His most recent book is Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (Basic Books, June 2009).
Lessons in protein evolution from a buried inhibitor
Josh Mylne is an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow who recently joined The University of Western Australia’s School of Chemistry & Biochemistry and The ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology. The biochemistry underlying the biosyntheses of bioactive plant peptides has led his new lab to focus on natural protein evolution including de novo protein evolution, structural convergence and biochemical constraints. He received his Ph.D. in Botany in 2002 (University of Queensland, UQ), worked on developmental molecular genetics at The John Innes Centre (Norwich, UK) from 2001 to 2005 then held an ARC QEII Fellowship while in the Division of Chemistry & Structural Biology at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (2006-2012). He was the inaugural John S. Mattick Fellow, received the 2012 Goldacre Medal and was recently selected as a Feinberg Foundation Visiting Fellow by the Weizmann Institute (Rehovot, Israel).
Evolution of prokaryotes: searching for the limits of genome dynamics and supergenome expansion
Eugene Koonin is the leader of the Evolutionary Genomics Group at the National Center for Biotechnology Information. He received his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology in 1983 from the Department of Biology, Moscow State University, joined the NCBI in 1991 and became a Senior Investigator in 1996. His group is pursuing several research directions in evolutionary genomics of prokaryotes, eukaryotes and viruses. He is the author of “The Logic of Chance: The nature and origin of biological evolution” (2011) and the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Biology Direct, an Open Access, open peer-review journal. Dr. Koonin is a Fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and American Academy of Microbiology, a Foreign Associate of the European Molecular Biology Organization, and Doctor Honoris Causa of Universite Aix-Marseille.
Are there ergodic limits to evolution?
Tom McLeish did a first degree in physics and PhD (1987) in polymer physics at the University of Cambridge. He became a lecturer in physics at the University of Sheffield, building a group working on the theory of dynamics of complex fluids. In 1993 he took the chair in polymer physics at the University of Leeds. He has since won several awards both in Europe (Weissenberg Medal) and the USA (Bingham Medal) for his work on molecular rheology of polymers, and ran a large collaborative and multidisciplinary research programme in this field from 1999-2009 co-funded between EPSRC and industry. From 2000-2005 he was a Senior Research Fellow of the EPSRC (UK), and from 2003-2009 the Director of the UK Polymer IRC, a multidisciplinary consortium of over 100 polymer scientists from university and industry. From 2004-2008 he was also Director of the White Rose Doctoral Training Centre in Biomolecules and Cells. He has consulted for a number of chemical industries. His research interests include: (i) molecular rheology of polymeric fluids); (ii) macromolecular biological physics; (iii) issues of theology, ethics and history of science. He has published over 180 scientific papers and reviews, and is in addition regularly involved in science-communication with the public. In 2008 he was appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at Durham University. In 2011 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 2012 he was made Vice-President of Science by the Institute of Physics (IoP).
Are evolutionary rates accelerating?
Michael Hendy is Professor of Mathematical Biology in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. He was the Founding Executive Director (2002 – 9) of the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, one of New Zealand’s 5 original Centres of Research Excellence. He and his colleague, Professor David Penny, have been researching evolutionary theory, molecular phylogenetics methodology and evolutionary rates, since 1978, with more than 100 publications in these areas. In 2012 he was awarded the NZ Association of Scientists Shorland medal, and in 2009 he received the NZ Mathematical Societies Research Award.
Contingency and determinism in replicated adaptive radiations
Jonathan Losos is an evolutionary biologist whose research takes a multi-disciplinary, integrative approach to understanding evolutionary diversification. Focusing on the diversity of lizards in the genus Anolis, Losos combines studies of ecology, behavior, functional morphology and systematics to address why the evolutionary radiation of anoles (400+ species) has been so successful and how particular species adapt to their environments. Losos graduated from Harvard College and received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. He is in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, as well as Curator of Herpetology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Losos has written over 150 papers plus a book, Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree: Ecology and Adaptive Radiation of Anoles. In addition, he has edited three books, most recently serving as Editor-in-Chief for the Princeton Guide to Evolutionary Biology.
Dr Jennifer Hoyal Cuthill
What do phylogenetic patterns in homoplasy tell us about the morphological state space?
Dr Jennifer Hoyal Cuthil uses phylogenetic techniques to look for macroevolutionary patterns, particularly those related to homoplasy – the repeated evolution of similar characteristics, as inferred on phylogenetic trees. I am interested in whether we can see consistent evolutionary patterns that hold across lineages and species, despite their idiosyncratic histories and habits. Exactly what sort of patterns am I talking about? One great thing about phylogenetic methods is that they can be applied across a wide range of taxa and character types and I have worked (for example) on general patterns of host switching among viruses of mammals, the role of coevolution in Müllerian mimicry among Heliconius butterflies, and the mathematical properties of homoplasy under the principle of parsimony. More generally, I am interested in palaeontology, the evolutionary biology of extant organisms and molecular biology, and have done postdoctoral research in the School of Information Technologies at the University of Sydney (2010 – 2013) as well as the Earth Sciences Department at the University of Cambridge, where am currently based and also took my PhD (2006 – 2010).
Developmental and phylogenetic limits to the evolution of mammals
Robert J. Asher is a paleobiologist specializing in mammals. He was Curator of Mammals at the Berlin Natural History Museum and Frick Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History. Currently, he is the Curator of Vertebrates in the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge, where he leads a research group in mammalian evolutionary biology focusing on the fossil record, development, comparative anatomy, and systematics (http://people.ds.cam.ac.uk/rja58).
Symmetry and modularity spontaneously arise from the algorithmic nature of evolution
Ard Louis is Professor in Theoretical Physics at the University of Oxford, where he leads an interdisciplinary research group studying problems on the border between chemistry, physics and biology, and is also director of graduate studies in theoretical physics. From 2002 to 2010 he was a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. Ard also dabbles in Molecular Gastronomy (see pictures of one of his group meetings here: https://picasaweb.google.com/115992471670817285222/MolecularGastronomyDinnerOct282012)
Limits in the evolution of biological form: A theoretical perspective
George McGhee is Distinguished Professor of Paleobiology at Rutgers University, New Jersey USA. He is interested in the paleoecology of mass extinction and in the exploration of potential evolutionary pathways in theoretical morphospaces (mathematical hyperspaces containing simulations of both existent and nonexistent biological forms). In the field of theoretical morphology and evolutionary form he has written the books Theoretical Morphology: The Concept and Its Applications (Columbia University Press, 1999), The Geometry of Evolution: Adaptive Landscapes and Theoretical Morphospaces (Cambridge University Press, 2007) and Convergent Evolution: Limited Forms Most Beautiful (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2011).
Evolution in Darwin’s Dreamponds: The replicate adaptive radiations in East African cichlid fishes
Walter Salzburger is Associate Professor for zoology and evolutionary biology at the University of Basel in Switzerland. He received his doctoral degree in Zoology in 2001 from the University of Innsbruck in Austria. After being a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Konstanz, Germany, he moved as junior group leader to the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and joined the Zoological Institute in Basel in 2007. The research of Walter Salzburger and his group focuses on the identification of the patterns and molecular mechanisms that underlie adaptation, evolutionary innovation, and diversification. Walter Salzburger’s main organismal study systems are the exceptionally diverse adaptive radiations of cichlid fishes in East Africa, and, in particular, the cichlid species-flock of Lake Tanganyika. The laboratory’s homepage at www.evolution.unibas.ch/salzburger/ provides further details on the group’s (research) activities.
Are there limits to the evolution of novel morphology?
Matthew Wills is a palaeobiologist with a background in the phylogeny and early evolution of arthropods. His current interests centre on devising tests for putative macroevolutionary trends; notably the increase in organismal complexity through time. He is also focusing on the manner in which major groups of animals evolve to explore morphological ‘design’ space; in particular the tendency for the most disparate morphologies to be realised relatively early in a group’s history. This pattern of ‘early high disparity’ may itself be (at least partly) a function of convergent evolution, whereby limited repertoires of possible morphological character states are variously recycled. Other work attempts to relate the developmental trajectories and adult morphologies of the extinct mollusks ammonoids to their hydrodynamic properties, their risk of extinction and their ability to diversify in the wake of mass extinction events. Matthew is currently Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology at the University of Bath, where he has been since 2000.
Is there a limited set of genetic paths for evolution?
Dr Virginie Orgogozo is a CNRS biology researcher at the Institut Jacques Monod in Paris. Her research work aims to understand how and why specific phenotypes arise during evolution. Trained as a developmental biologist during her PhD, she now uses a variety of approaches (genomics, developmental biology, biochemistry, behavioral assays, genetics, etc.) together with her research team to try to identify the mutations that have occurred during evolution and that have caused phenotypic divergence in closely related species of Drosophila flies. One of her ongoing projects is to consolidate the list of genes and mutations that have been reported to cause phenotypic differences in animals and plants, in order to try to find new predictable patterns inthe evolutionary process. More information about her work can be found at: http://www.normalesup.org/~vorgogoz/research.html
Theories and concepts in early human evolution
Mark Maslin FRGS, FRSA is a Professor of Palaeoclimatology at University College London. Maslin is a leading scientist with particular expertise in past global and regional climatic change and its effects on biodiversity and human evolution. He has published over 125 papers in journals such as Science, Nature, Journal of Human Evolution and The Lancet. In 2009 with his long-term collaborator he created the controversial ‘Pulsed climate variability hypothesis’ which tries to explain the link between rapid climate changes in Africa and the speciation, diversity and dispersal of early hominins. Maslin was a co-author of the seminal Lancet report ‘Managing the health effects of climate change’ in 2009 and the Lancet review on the health links between Population, Development and Climate Change in 2013. In 2011 he was granted a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award for the study of early human evolution in East Africa.
Cosmological and technological limits to evolution
Anders Sandberg’s research at the Future of Humanity Institute centres on societal and ethical issues surrounding human enhancement and new technology, global catastrophic risks, as well as estimating the capabilities and underlying science of future technologies. Topics of particular interest include enhancement of cognition, cognitive biases, technology-enabled collective intelligence, neuroethics, risk cognition, the fundamental limits of technology, and public policy. Besides scientific publications in neuroscience, ethics, and future studies, he has also participated in the public debate about human enhancement internationally. Anders is senior researcher on the Amlin-FHI collaboration on the systemic risk of risk modelling and research associate at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology and the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics.
Newtonian limits on evolution
L. Mahadevan is the England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics, Physics and Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. His work centers around using mathematics to understand the physical and biological organization of matter in space and time, particularly at the scale of the everyday world and is thus closely tied in with experience and experiments. He obtained his PhD at Stanford University in 1995, and started his independent career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before moving to Harvard in 2003, he was the inaugural Schlumberger Professor of Complex Physical Systems at Cambridge University and a fellow of Trinity. Among his awards is a MacArthur Fellowship (2009) and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2006). He has published over 200 papers on subjects that range from the mechanics of DNA to geophysical plate tectonics, from the electromechanics of graphene to gut morphogenesis, and from the ageing of networks to the statistical dynamics of climate change.
What does convergence mean? Definitions, expectations, implications, and the significance of convergent evolution
C. Tristan Stayton is an evolutionary biologist equally interested in convergent evolution and the influence of mechanical factors on large-scale patterns of morphological diversification. Stayton’s convergence work covers a wide range of topics, such as developing methods to quantify convergence or studying what factors can promote convergence between groups, as well as a wide range of species, from theoretical organisms to lizard skulls to bird-pollinated Australian flowers. His mechanical research is currently focused on the influence of mechanical performance on the diversification of turtle shells. Stayton graduated from Purdue University with a BS in Geology in 1999, and received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago’s Committee on Evolutionary Biology in 2005. He is currently an Associate Professor of Biology at Bucknell University, where he teaches classes in Organismal Biology, Biomechanics, and Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy.
Convergence as Natural Experiment: The ‘Tape of Life’ reconsidered
Russell Powell is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Boston University. He has held faculty fellowships at the National Humanities Center, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, the Centre for Practical Ethics and the Institute for Science and Ethics at Oxford University, and the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. Dr. Powell’s research focuses primarily on conceptual and methodological problems in biological science, especially in relation to macroevolution, homology, homoplasy, universal biology, human evolution, cultural evolution, the evolution of religion, and emerging biotechnologies. From 2014-2015, he will be working as principal investigator on a project funded by the Templeton Foundation titled “Contingency, Convergence, Cognition: Why Conscious Species are Common in the Universe but Technological Species are Rare.” Powell received his Ph.D. in Philosophy and M.S. in Evolutionary Biology from Duke University (2009). Prior to commencing his graduate work in philosophy, he worked as an Associate in the New York office of the global law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP, where he practiced complex pharmaceutical liability litigation. He is currently serving as Associate Editor for the Journal of Medical Ethics, which is part of the British Medical Journal Group.
A new paradigm for animal symmetry
Gábor Holló is a biologist, working as an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Psychology, University of Debrecen, Hungary. Before obtaining his PhD in 2010 in physical anthropology, he worked in bilingual education. After completing his PhD, he changed research field in order to study the theoretical problems related to the evolution of animal symmetry. He is now leading multidisciplinary research investigating the origin of bilateral symmetry.
After finishing a medical degree and house jobs at Oxford, Chrisantha did a PhD in Sussex in Evolutionary and Adaptive Systems working with Prof. Eors Szathmary on computer models of the origin of life. He subsequently did a Marie Curie Fellowship at Collegium Budapest where he and Eors developed the idea of Darwinian Neurodynamics. After a period lecturing at Queen Mary University he has just started a job at Google DeepMind working on the interface of Evolutionary Comptuation and Machine Learning.
Biocultural history: what can we learn from genes, Neanderthals, and citizen science?
Peter Kjaergaard is Professor of Evolutionary Studies and Director of Centre for Biocultural History at Aarhus University [LINK: bioculture.au.dk]. Originally trained in history of science, he turned to interdisciplinary studies of evolution with a particular interest in human evolution. He has held fellowships at a number of universities around the world, including the University of Cambridge, Oxford University, École Normale Supérieure, Paris, Harvard University, and the University of California, Los Angeles. He is editor-in-chief of the online evolution encyclopedia evolution.dk and the Danish Darwin Archive. Currently he is directing the exhibition Meet the family on human origins at the new Moesgaard Museum, home of the Grauballe Man and serves as a consultant on a Darwin opera and a concerto for choir and orchestra on the history of life on earth for Aarhus Symphony Orchestra. In 2014 he is publishing two books, Creationism in Europe and Family: the human story.
Evolution of robots
Peter Robinson is Professor of Computer Technology in the Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, where he leads the Rainbow Research Group working on computer graphics and interaction. His research concerns problems at the boundary between people and computers. This involves investigating new technologies to enhance communication between computers and their users, and new applications to exploit these technologies. The main focus for this is human-computer interaction, where he has been leading work for some years on the use of video and paper as part of the user interface. Recent projects have involved the inference of people’s mental states from facial expressions, vocal nuances, body posture and gesture, and other physiological signals, and also considered the expression of emotions by robots and cartoon avatars.