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On the Origin of Species, Really


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Hear Duke evolutionary biologist Mohamed Noor discuss the work that made him one of only a dozen scientists honored with the Darwin-Wallace Medal in 2008. This prize is given only once every fifty years to those twelve scientists who have done the most to advance Darwin's thinking.

Although Darwin's book title suggested that he provided us with insights on the origin of species, in fact, he only focused on the process of divergence within species and assumed the same process "eventually" led to something that could be called a new species.

This event was taped live as part of the Periodic Tables: Durham's Science Cafe series at the Broad Street Cafe. Periodic Tables is a Museum of Life and Science program. For more info please visit us at

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On the Origin of Species, Really

  1. 1. Tonight @ 7pm On the Origin of Species, Really Dr. Mohamed Noor, Duke University Fan us on Facebook
  2. 2. On the origin of species, Really Mohamed Noor Biology and Evolutionary Genetics
  3. 3. Evolution 2005 <ul><li>USA shows one of the highest rates of “disbelief” in evolution </li></ul><ul><li>USA shows one of the lowest rates of “belief” that evolution has occurred </li></ul>
  4. 4. Still, life on our planet is highly diverse <ul><li>… but that life seems to exist in discrete “clusters” at multiple levels. </li></ul><ul><li>How did it all evolve? </li></ul>
  5. 5. We readily recognize these clusters and see as “natural” <ul><li>Can see which “is not like the others” based on DNA or appearance. </li></ul><ul><li>How did these clusters come about? </li></ul>
  6. 6. Common descent <ul><li>Darwin argued in 1859 book for “universal common descent” of all life- this explains the natural clustering we see </li></ul><ul><li>Since then, the evidence for this idea has expanded greatly, particularly with growth of genetics </li></ul>
  7. 7. Common descent of life
  8. 8. Kirk Cameron on evolution <ul><li>&quot;There is something called microevolution- this is very different. Microevolution is adaptation within a species. Look at dogs- you've got the tiny chihuahua and the great dane. They're very different, but they're both dogs. Or horses. You've got zebras and donkeys ... very different, but they're horses. Horses produce horses, and dogs produce dogs. Adaptation within a species is totally different than man evolving from an entirely different species.&quot; </li></ul>
  9. 9. EVOLUTION has two fundamental processes <ul><li>Change within a lineage </li></ul><ul><li>Formation of new lineages (associated with split of existing lineage) </li></ul>
  10. 10. New lineage formation leads to the diversity of life on Earth Tree of animal life Twig of animal life
  11. 11. How do new forms become or persist as new species? <ul><li>Organisms exist in discrete clusters- don’t observe in nature all intermediate forms... </li></ul><ul><li>Darwin addressed this only indirectly- considered species and genera to be extension of “varieties” </li></ul>
  12. 12. Start with definition: What is a “species” anyway??? On a practical level, decide based on appearance… but how different do you have to be?
  13. 13. A better definition of species: “gene pools” <ul><li>Groups of interbreeding natural populations that do not exchange genes with other such groups </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Termed the “Biological Species Concept” </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. “ Barrier traits” separate gene pools in two ways <ul><li>1) Interbreeding doesn’t happen at all </li></ul><ul><li>Live in different parts of common environment </li></ul><ul><li>Breed at different times of day or different seasons </li></ul><ul><li>Just not attracted to each other </li></ul>
  15. 15. “ Barrier traits” separate gene pools in two ways <ul><li>2) Whoops! Well, interbreeding does not result in gene exchange for other reasons </li></ul><ul><li>Sperm don’t fertilize eggs of other species </li></ul><ul><li>Hybrids die early in life </li></ul><ul><li>Hybrids live but are sterile (dead-ends) </li></ul>
  16. 16. Example: habitat differences <ul><li>Rhagoletis fruit flies </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Two races in North America: breed exclusively on apple or hawthorn berries </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Survival & reproduction better on “own” host </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Genetic differences </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Apple race JUST formed in last 120 years- before 1600s, no apple trees in USA </li></ul></ul>
  17. 17. Example: timing differences <ul><li>Cicadas- some species emerge every 13 years, and some every 17 years </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Until that time, burrow underground and eat off tree roots </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Then emerge, drop exoskeleton, and call </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Only overlap once every 221 years! </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. Example: preference differences <ul><li>North American fruit flies Drosophila pseudoobscura and D. persimilis co-occur & look identical, but “sing” different songs </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Females reject males singing wrong song </li></ul></ul>
  19. 19. Example: hybrid sterile <ul><li>Liger- hybrid of lion father and tiger mother. Probably doesn’t happen in nature since don’t overlap ranges. Males usually sterile. </li></ul><ul><li>Zonkey- usually hybrid of zebra father and donkey mother. Found in South Africa. Usually sterile (especially males). </li></ul>
  20. 20. How do new species form? <ul><li>Genetic changes that produce “barrier traits” build up leading to new species </li></ul><ul><li>Topic of research: what evolutionary forces drove them? </li></ul>
  21. 21. Natural selection is important <ul><li>Imagine hybrids between “types” are sickly (or sterile). </li></ul><ul><li>You can mate at random- some of your kids will be sickly, and your genes don’t get passed on too far </li></ul><ul><li>You can mate preferentially with your own “type”, kids healthy, genes passed on well </li></ul>
  22. 22. Study system: Drosophila pseudoobscura D. persimilis <ul><li>Species that look exactly alike </li></ul><ul><li>Hybrid males sterile (so bad at passing on genes), hybrid females fertile </li></ul><ul><li>Mate in nature, though not very much </li></ul><ul><li>Native to North America and co-occur in some areas </li></ul>
  23. 23. High discrimination Low discrimination Noor 1995 Nature
  24. 24. Summary <ul><li>Species are units of biodiversity </li></ul><ul><li>Form through “barriers to gene flow” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mate discrimination </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hybrid sterility </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Natural selection helps drive these </li></ul><ul><li>Genetic features also important, like recombination </li></ul>
  25. 25. IMPLICATIONS: <ul><li>Human-induced habitat destruction is reducing the number of species worldwide </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Bad for humans in part because increases vulnerability to flood & drought, crop failure, spread of disease, and water contamination </li></ul></ul><ul><li>This research looks at the other end of the process: species formation -> extinction </li></ul>
  26. 26. IMPLICATIONS: <ul><li>Not just losing existing species, but losing species that were “just beginning to form” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Lake Victoria cichlids choose mates by coloration </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Turbidity (human-induced) in water reducing mate choice, so now mating more at random </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Species that would have formed, now won’t… </li></ul></ul>Cyanobacteria, Algal blooms, etc.
  27. 27. … and we strive to continue to understand and explain…
  28. 28. THANK YOU!
  29. 29. Q: Should all new species form in the same manner, or is species formation a “collection of special cases”? a Fan us on Facebook
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