I was recently invited by Kara Jackson from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) to give a talk on our research and/or evolutionary biology. I wasn’t aware of the YWT before, but it turns out they own a big farm over at Berry Brow, which they maintain to showcase agricultural practice that respects and enable wildlife to flourish. It’s called Stirley Community Farm and it includes a community centre, where they recently launched “Cake and Nature” series of talks—hence my visit.
In the last decade, biological sciences have undergone a revolution: due to breakthrough developments in sequencing technologies—the capability to read DNA—it is now possible to obtain complete genetic information on a population scale. Apart from more mainstream application of these advances, such as genealogy or identification of disease–causing mutations, one of the most exciting is our ability to study patterns of genetic variation in wild populations of almost any species. This ability, coupled with studies of the genetics material of long–extinct organisms, allows unprecedented insight into the evolutionary history of many species.
I will provide an overview of how we study molecular basis of evolutionary change by looking at DNA of modern and extinct species through several examples, from metabolism of bacteria and wings of peppered moths through the beaks of Darwin’s finches to the fur of beach mice and others, including the most self-obsessed of the apes, humans.
These advances are being developed on the background of our ability to also synthesize DNA of a desired sequence and modify DNA in situ to an extraordinary degree. Overall, they have turned biology into a sophisticated, statistics–based and data–driven discipline not unlike high-energy physics, justifying the expectations that the XXI century will be the age of biology.
See you there!