Darwin Today discussion topics
Evolution and society
- A fare share? (PDF 68KB)
- How do the media present evolution? (PDF 47KB)
- Social evolution - does Darwin have all the answers? (PDF 56KB)
- The language organism (PDF 47KB)
- How leaders emerge in groups (PDF 63KB)
- Complexity science and evolution (PDF 56KB)
- What has evolution got to do with society?
Humans affecting other species
The human species, Homo sapiens, has been incredibly successful and colonised much of the earth, from the freezing tundra to the tropical rainforests and the searing desert.
But what has this meant for the other species we share this planet with, and in turn what does that mean for us?
This topic explores some of the research that is trying to answer these, and other, questions.
- Will climate change drive evolution? (PDF 56KB)
- Evolution in the fast lane (PDF 48KB)
- Variety is the spice of life (PDF 104KB)
- Evolution - how far have we come? (PDF 75KB)
- Habitat loss (PDF 93KB)
- Natural cycles (PDF 73KB)
- Extinction - who's next? (PDF 71KB)
- The Gaia hypothesis (PDF 43KB)
- Can extinction be a good thing?
Do unstable environments create niches for new species to evolve and therefore encourage new diversity?
- Does it matter which species become extinct?
Hawaii, aptly named as the extinction capital of the world, has lost half of its 140 recorded native bird species. But does this really matter? Many would argue yes, as any reduction in genetic diversity is likely to weaken ecosystems and deplete the natural resources available to us. However, a big dilemma facing conservationists is whether people should prioritise their efforts towards protecting certain key species or try to protect all biodiversity on an equal footing.
- How has global warming influenced evolution in the past?
We know that stable environments tend to provide fewer opportunities for new species to emerge. Fossil evidence from past extinctions, show that the disappearance of some species created a niche for new species to flourish.
A recent discovery has rewritten our understanding of how we evolved on this planet. New research suggests that the ancestors of all mammals on Earth diversified as a result of a global warming. It contradicts the previously accepted theory that a mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65M years ago prompted the rapid rise of the mammals that we see today. The research team worked for over a decade to compile a ‘tree of life’ from existing fossil records and new molecular analyses. Andy Purvis from Imperial College London explained:
“Our research has shown that for the first 10 or 15M years after the dinosaurs were wiped out, present day mammals kept a very low profile, while other types of mammals were running the show. It looks like a later bout of global warming may have kick-started today's diversity – not the death of the dinosaurs.”
Like natural selection, in which the fittest individuals pass on their genes, so scientists are using artificial selection to direct evolution.
For millennia humankind has bred animals and plants to suit our needs, from corn and carnations to pigs and pit-bulls. Modern molecular biology techniques have allowed this principle to be taken forward. Now scientist can evolve individual genes in the lab to suit a particular task.
- What are the moral implications of this technology? Is directing evolution playing God?
Evolution of Resistance
Often compared to the Cold War arms race, the evolution of competing organisms is a constant struggle for supremacy. Pathogens must constantly adapt to overcome their hosts and hosts must constantly change to resist the onslaught of diseases.
This topic explores how resistance has evolved and is evolving today.
- What happens when we run out of antibiotics?
- Will we ever be free from disease?
Tristan Maclean, Inspiring Young Scientists Co-ordinator, Norwich Research Park
tel: 01603 450970