2014 NESCent/BEACON Evolution Symposium

Evolution in Action

National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) Professional Development Conference

November 14th, 2014
12:15 - 4:15 PM
Cleveland Convention Center, Room 25B
Cleveland, OH

Evolution in Action draws on the idea that evolutionary change occurs in any system when replication, variation (mutation) and differential fitness (competition) are present. The 2014 Evolution Symposium highlights Evolution in Action by presenting scientists from the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, an NSF Science and Technology Center founded with the mission of illuminating and harnessing the power of evolution to advance science and technology and benefit society.  This year's speakers, all BEACON scientists, work with evolutionary processes in experimental systems, apply evolutionary principles of adaptation and resiliency in computer science and engineering design, or use computational systems in tandem with biological experiments to test complex biological hypotheses.

The symposium will be followed by a two-hour teacher workshop (on Saturday, Nov. 15th from 10 AM to noon) which will provide participants with resources, ideas and strategies to introduce the topic of Evolution in Action in their classroom.

Examining the Evolution of a Novel Trait in a Long-Term Experiment with E. coli
Dr. Zachary David Blount
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Michigan State University

Experiments with fast-growing microbes have become one of the principle means of studying evolution over the last few decades.  The oldest and best studied is the E. coli Long-Term Evolution Experiment (LTEE) begun in 1988 by Dr. Richard Lenski of Michigan State University.  This 60,000 (and counting) generation experiment has presented opportunities to examine many aspects of evolution.  In this talk Dr. Blount will focus on one of these opportunities:  the evolution of a novel trait, aerobic growth on citrate.  Research into the origin, evolution, and consequences of this trait has shed light on the role of history in evolution, the origins of evolutionary novelty, and has even unveiled a possible instance of speciation in the lab. 

Blount Lab Homepage
E. coli Long-term Experimental Evolution Project Site

Digital Darwin: Evolution Action in Your Computer
Dr. Robert T. Pennock
Lyman Briggs College
Departments of Philosophy
Computer Science & Engineering
Ecology, Evolutionary Biology & Behavior
Michigan State University

Co-Principal Investigator, BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action
Evolutionary processes that shape the biological world can also be instantiated in virtual environments in a computer, making possible new sorts of evolutionary experiments.  Digital evolution systems can also be harnessed to help solve complex engineering problems.  They also now provide an exciting new approach for inquiry-based learning that improves students’ understanding and appreciation of evolutionary science.

BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action

Making Scents: How Birds Use Odors to Communicate
Dr. Danielle Whittaker
Managing Director
BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action
Michigan State University

Communication in all modalities plays a key role in mate choice and, consequently, sexual selection and speciation. Contrary to long-held beliefs, birds, like mammals, produce and detect odors that contain information about an individual's identity, reproductive readiness, and quality. These odor compounds are found in preen oil, secreted from the avian uropygial gland and spread on the feathers for protection and maintenance. Most recently, we have found evidence that the uropygial gland that harbors symbiotic bacteria, which may actually produce the odors used by the birds. Dr. Whittaker will discuss her work on chemical communication in the dark-eyed junco, a North American sparrow, and its implications for understanding avian mate choice, speciation, and evolution.

The Junco Project

Ladybugs and Robots: Using Evolutionary Computation to Evolve Complex Behaviors
Dr. Terence Soule
Department of Computer Science
University of Idaho

At the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, we apply evolutionary computation to various aspects of teaching and learning. In this talk Dr. Soule will explore two on-going projects being conducted at the University of Idaho in collaboration with other BEACON scientists. The Ladybug Game is a computer based, evolutionary game designed to help explain evolution to audiences ranging from kindergarten to adults, by allowing the player to either observe or participate in the evolutionary process. The second project uses evolutionary computation, a form of machine learning, to help people train robots. The program repeats this evolutionary process until a successful, i.e. highly fit, behavior is found, making it possible for a person to evolve fairly complex behaviors for a robot.

Ladybug Game

2014 Teacher Workshop
Receive resources, ideas and strategies to introduce Evolution in Action in your classroom.

November 15th, 2014
10 AM - Noon
Cleveland Convention Center, Room 17
For more information about the 2014 NABT Conference, including registration please go to the NABT website.