In honor of Darwin’s birthday, the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center hosted a symposium that took us back to the beginning. This interdisciplinary event brought together researchers in philosophy, chemistry, biology and astrobiology to address our current understanding of basic questions about life.  What is life?  Where did it come from and where can it be found?  How can life forms unlike our own be identified? 

Using what we know about metabolism of extremophiles, self-assembling chemical systems, bizarre genetic systems, and analytical tools such as phylogenetics and geochemistry, these scientists are building a more complete picture of how early life arose on Earth.  This information is being used in to inform searches for extraterrestrial life and help us refine our understanding of the fundamental definition of “life."

We invite you to join us to learn more about this topic that takes us to the very edges of our understanding of life on earth and beyond.  Supporting resources for the symposium, including background reading, speaker biographies and educational resources are available.

In 2009 we will be celebrating "The Year of Science."  Watch for many interesting events including Darwin Day 2009 - the 200th Anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of "The Origin of Species." 

For more information contact


8:30 Welcome and Introductions

Kathleen Smith

Director, NESCent

Professor of Biology, Duke University

8:45 The Evolution of Microbial Life on Earth: Tree or Forest?

Carol Cleland

Professor of Philosophy, University of Colorado

9:45 Creating Life in the Laboratory

Mark Bedau

Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Reed College

Adjunct Professor of Systems Science, Portland State and European Center for Living Technology

10:45 Coffee Break

11:05 Earth's Earliest Fossil Record: Sediments, Microbes and Their Interwoven Legacy

Abigail Allwood

NASA Post-doctoral Fellow, Jet Propulsion Lab

12:05 Lunch

1:30 Life, Metabolism and the Early Atmosphere

Janet Siefert

Faculty Fellow, Rice University

2:30 The Eukaryote Tree of Life: New Paradigms

Andrew Roger

Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Dalhousie University and Fellow, CIAR Program in Evolutionary Biology

3:30 Coffee Break

3:50 Scrambled Genomes and Primitive Genetic Systems

Laura Landweber

Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University

4:50 Wrap-up Discussion

5:30 Adjourn





NESCent's Darwin Day symposium is funded by the National Science Foundation

and Duke University's Provost's Office.


Resources   Speaker Biographies   Background Reading   

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