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2009 Sees The 200th Anniversary Of The Birth Of Charles Darwin

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Author Topic: 2009 Sees The 200th Anniversary Of The Birth Of Charles Darwin  (Read 393 times)
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« Reply #30 on: February 08, 2009, 01:22:03 pm »

Two years before Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species, he and Emma had a 10th child, Charles Waring, who was almost certainly, four years before John Langdon Haydon Down identified the condition, a Down's syndrome baby. Darwin spent hours with him, watching him crawl elegantly (said the doting father) across the floor: "He will lie calm a long time on my lap looking at my face with a steady, pleased expression, making nice little bubbling noises when I move his chin."

In June 1858, when Charles Waring was 18 months, Charles and Emma watched him die in agony from scarlet fever. "I hope to God," Charles wrote to a friend, "he did not suffer so much as he appeared."

All the evidence Darwin had now pointed one remorseless way: "mortal illness in man due, no doubt, to hereditary tendencies towards disease, which clears away the weak." Did his children suffer and die because he had married his first cousin? "My dread is hereditary ill-health. Are marriages between first cousins doomed to deformity and illness?"

On the Origin of Species was written in great haste and sadness and, in some ways, is a very sad book. We are alone with our biology. Our suffering has no consolatory point. But while Darwin wrote it, he knew Emma was mourning their children very differently. "I feel grateful to God that our darling was apparently spared suffering," she said after Annie died.

"I hope I shall be able to attain submission to the will of Heaven." She clung to her faith in an afterlife – and yet she told Charles not to change one jot of what he was thinking for fear of hurting her.
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« Reply #31 on: February 08, 2009, 01:24:57 pm »

What I find sad today is that 22-year-olds who identify Darwin with a theory they don't understand are missing out, not just on biology, but on a whole, generous, mind, which everyone can enjoy. I and my daughter happen to be related to Darwin by blood, but he has something for everybody.

I have spent most of this year on a book of poems that works like a kind of shorthand biography of Darwin's life and thought. His mother's early death, eight-year-old Charles repressing all memory of her, turning to obsessive collecting of newts and stones; the Beagle voyage; the two years of bachelorhood in London while he was secretary at the Geology Society at Somerset House, his mind racing with ideas, himself cantering across London to observe orang-utans at the zoo; his nervous proposal to Emma; the children's tragic deaths – and all the way through, his ideas.

"We all have our own Darwin," said Richard Fortey very kindly, commenting on these poems. I am no scientist, I know my poems miss out whole huge, sophisticated, areas of thought. But what anyone can love in him is his love of ideas and his enthusiasm; the way he wonders about connections and processes as well as origins. My prayer next year is for him to reach those 22-year-olds who hang back from our animal origins.

When Darwin was 22, he was trying to get himself into a hammock for the first time. "I am writing this for the first time on board," he wrote to his sister. "It is now about one o'clock and I intend sleeping in my hammock. Last night I experienced a most ludicrous difficulty in getting into it; my great fault of jockeyship was in trying to put my legs in first. The hammock being suspended, I thus only succeeded in pushing [it] away ... without making any progress in inserting my own body. The correct method is to sit accurately in centre of bed, then give yourself a dexterous twist and your head and feet come into their respective places."

Above all, though, his life is a love story. Thirty years ago, my grandmother, when I was looking after her in a rainy Cambridge, talked to me of how difficult it was for Charles and Emma that his thought, in Emma's words, "put God even farther off".

I longed then to try and write something about their relationship. This year, doing that work, I realised that, despite a little gulf about God, they had one of the happiest and most honest marriages intellectually, as well as emotionally. And there were, of course, those 10 children.

"Oh that I could remember more!" Emma wrote after he died in 1882. "But it was the same loving gratitude many times a day. His tenderness seemed to increase. The last 12 years were happiest of all, most overflowing with affection." She read to him every afternoon; they played backgammon every night; and they finessed the tough passages with humour. I'm not good at feeling proud of things (I think that's a Darwin characteristic). But in being descended from that pair, what I am proud of is that affection – and their gentle, funny, endearingly modest humanity.
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« Reply #32 on: February 08, 2009, 01:26:35 pm »

Ruth Padel ( is resident poet at Somerset House, where Charles Darwin worked as secretary of the Geological Society from 1838-1839.

The Royal Society of Literature, Royal Society and Somerset House Trust will present 'The Life in the Stone – Charles Darwin, The Geology, The Poetry', with Padel reading from her book 'Darwin – A Life in Poems', with a response by Richard Fortey, on 9 February 2009. Contact the Royal Society of Literature on 020-7845 4676.

'Darwin: My Ancestor', four programmes written and presented by Ruth Padel, will be broadcast on Radio 4 every Tuesday for four weeks from 27 January at 9.30am.

'Darwin – A Life in Poems'

is published by
Chatto and Windus
on 12 February
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« Reply #33 on: February 08, 2009, 01:27:42 pm »


Natural History Museum, London SW7, to 19 April 2009 (020-7942 5000;

This is a comprehensive study of the godfather of evolutionary theory, recounting the scientific discoveries made on the expeditionary voyage of HMS 'Beagle', as well as looking at Darwin's personal side and his role as a family man. There's a wealth of never-before-seen specimens and artefacts on display, plus short films, letters and publications illustrating his life.


Beneath Darwin's earth-shaking discoveries lies the private struggle of the man – his loss of faith after his eldest daughter's death; the implications of his theories of existence; and his wife's deep religious sentiment, an opposition that threatens to tear the loving family apart. In one biopic, 'Creation' (now in production), Paul Bettany (right) plays Darwin and Jennifer Connelly plays the scientist's wife Emma. Hoping to provide a foil for 'Creation' is a second film, 'Mrs Darwin', which tells the story from the point of view of Charles's pious wife Emma. Rosamund Pike and Joseph Fiennes are rumoured to be playing the couple, and the film is in pre-production.


Cambridge University, 5–10 July 2009 (

A predominantly academic event, with the programme including debates on Darwin's impact on human nature and belief, focus sessions on fields influenced by Darwin, such as science ('On the Origin of Species': speciation studies now) and the arts (Darwin in poetry, music and on stage). Other events involve tours of the University Botanic Gardens and fringe events (live music, street theatre and soapbox talks) by Cambridge Footlights.


British Library, London NW1, to 22 March 2009 (0870 444 1500;

This innovative exhibition offers insight into how Darwin developed his evolutionary idea by producing a replica of his "sand walk" – a route he trod every day with his terrier. On this, he observed nature and reflected on his experiments and travels on the 'Beagle'; piecing his theory together. This playful idea complements the rich collection of letters owned by the British Library and revealing the private Darwin – a humorous, emotional and charmingly modest man.


From early January 2009

The BBC begins a series of programmes on Darwin. Melvyn Bragg kicks off the season with a four-part documentary asking why Darwin's writings remain so influential. Other offerings include 'The Darwinian Sistine Chapel', which charts artist Tania Kovats's project of decorating the Natural History Museum's ceiling based on Darwinian theories, in the manner of Michelangelo's vision of creation in the Vatican.
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« Reply #34 on: February 09, 2009, 06:50:06 am »


                                              The evolution of Darwin's theory

200 years after his birth, scientists are analyzing DNA in an effort to keep pace with increasingly rapid

changes among humans and solve the mysteries behind blue eyes and our other differences.

By Karen Kaplan
February 8, 2009

Blue eyes are typically associated with beauty, or perhaps Frank Sinatra. But to University of Wisconsin anthropologist John Hawks, they represent an evolutionary mystery.

For nearly all of human history, everyone in the world had brown eyes. Then, between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago, the first blue-eyed baby was born somewhere near the Black Sea.


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For some reason, that baby's descendants gained a 5% evolutionary advantage over their brown-eyed competitors, and today the number of people with blue eyes tops half a billion.

"What does it mean?" asked Hawks, who studies the forces that have shaped the human species for the last 6 million years.

Nobody knows. It is one of the questions about evolution that persist 200 years after the birth of Charles Darwin, whose birthday will be celebrated worldwide Thursday.

Darwin amassed a lifetime of observations on plants and animals to famously conclude that all life on Earth evolved from simple organisms through a painstakingly slow process of tiny random changes and a continuous contest for survival of the fittest.

Though Darwin published his masterwork, "On the Origin of Species," 150 years ago and died in 1882, studies on evolution continue apace. Much of that effort focuses on the species Darwin considered the pinnacle of the evolutionary process: Homo sapiens.

Until recently, conventional wisdom held that human beings had mastered their environment so thoroughly that the imperative to evolve in many ways diminished about 10,000 years ago, when agriculture gave rise to more-stable societies.

"People thought that with technology and culture, there'd be no reason for physical things to make any difference," said Milford Wolpoff, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Michigan. "If you can ride a horse, it doesn't matter if you can run fast."

That turned out to be wrong. As it happens, the pace of evolution has been speeding up -- not slowing down -- in the 40,000 years since our ancestors fanned out from Ethiopia to populate the globe.

And in the 5,000 to 10,000 years since agriculture triggered the growth of large societies, the pace has accelerated to 100 times historical levels.

"When there's more people, there are more mutations," Wolpoff said. "And when there are more mutations, there's more selection."

Hawks and other scientists quantified this in late 2007 by comparing more than 3 million genetic variants in the DNA of 269 people of African, European, Asian and Native American descent. They created sophisticated computer models to scour the genome for telltale patterns signaling recent adoption of favorable genes.

Their methods rely on the fact that new mutations are not inherited alone, but are passed along in large DNA chunks. Over time, random changes make those chunks smaller. By comparing the length of those chunks in different people, scientists can estimate how long the beneficial mutation has been spreading through the gene pool.

The analysis turned up about 1,800 genes -- 7% of the genome -- that have been widely adopted in the last 40,000 years. Researchers using more conservative methods estimate the number at 300 to 500.

The function of most genes is unknown. The scientists identified 17 genes for the hair cells involved in hearing, which may have been favored by natural selection because they help people identify voices or speak tonal languages such as Mandarin.

And they found a number of genes involved in brain development, including a version of a dopamine receptor gene called DRD4 that is sweeping through the European population. Some think it is a novelty-seeking variant, others that it affects libido. What they do know is that having two copies increases the odds of having attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Among the genes whose purpose is understood, the biggest category is devoted to fighting infectious diseases. For instance, the researchers found more than a dozen new genetic variants involved in fighting malaria to be spreading rapidly among Africans.

Scientists had previously identified several mutations that offered protection against the disease. Most were shared by people of African descent, because the scourge is most widespread on that continent. But malaria afflicts people throughout the tropics and subtropics, and additional mutations to combat the disease arose in Thailand and New Guinea, Hawks said.

One of the newly discovered mutations helps defend against a form of the disease in which malaria parasites congregate in blood cells in the placenta, causing a high rate of miscarriage.
« Last Edit: February 09, 2009, 06:54:26 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #35 on: February 09, 2009, 06:56:47 am »

Diet is another big force behind recent human evolution. As humans made the transition from being hunter-gatherers to farmers, their bodies had to adapt to new kinds of foods.

The best-known example involves the gene that regulates a person's ability to make an enzyme required to digest lactose, the sugar in milk. Historically, the LCT gene shut down in early childhood as babies were weaned off breast milk. But after cows, sheep and goats were domesticated, people with a mutation that allowed them to drink milk as adults had a nutritional advantage that made it easier for them to propagate their genes.

DNA analyses have shown that the mutation cropped up in Europe about 8,000 years ago, and quickly spread all the way to India. Today, it is carried by more than 95% of people of Northern European descent.

A 2007 study bolsters the theory that the rise of pastoralism prompted the gene's spread. Using new techniques to analyze ancient DNA, German and British researchers checked the genes of eight European farmers who lived 7,000 to 7,800 years ago, before the widespread adoption of a herding lifestyle. None of those early farmers had the mutation for lactose tolerance.

The adaptation was so important that it happened at least five times. Hawks and colleagues have recently discovered LCT variants that arose independently over the last 5,000 years among herders living in the Arabian Peninsula and sub-Saharan Africa.

The human genome is still adapting to our relatively new agricultural diet, based on starches and sugars.

Type 2 diabetes may be one of the consequences. Scientists have compared the genetic profiles of diabetes patients with those of healthy controls and found some recently spreading genes that seem to protect against diabetes by affecting the body's ability to digest starches. That may explain why Native Americans, who came to farming relatively recently, have a higher risk of diabetes, Hawks said.

The usefulness of blue eyes is far less clear. In his 1871 book "The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex," Darwin proposed that blue eyes spread among Europeans simply because they were sexually desirable.

Some scientists find that theory plausible. Others propose that blue eyes are a side effect of some other trait that is evolutionarily useful -- though as yet unidentified.

Pale skin is a leading contender. The earliest humans in Africa had dark skin to protect against the damaging effects of solar radiation. But as people migrated farther from the equator, the melanin required to make their skin dark became less necessary.

Perhaps they stopped making unnecessary melanin in order to conserve energy. Or, people with lighter skin may have had a fitness advantage because they were more efficient at harnessing the weaker sunlight of northern climes to make vitamin D. Ongoing studies are searching for evidence that could settle the question.

Humans are continuing to evolve in response to diseases, diet, climate and other factors. But technological advances have made natural selection "a much less potent force on us in the present than it was in the past," said Noah Rosenberg, a human geneticist at the University of Michigan.

Today, lactose-intolerant kids can compensate by drinking soy milk and eating a variety of readily available nutritious foods. People deficient in vitamin D can take a supplement.

Modern medicines also may have reduced the pressure for the gene pool to create and spread mutations that would protect against new diseases.

But without a time machine, all science can do is make an educated guess as to where the human genome is heading, said Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago:

"There are some things we're never going to know."
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« Reply #36 on: February 09, 2009, 06:59:07 am »

The year 2009 marks the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's most famous work: On the Origin of Species. In commemoration, Cambridge University Press—the exclusive publisher of Darwin's complete correspondence—has collaborated with today's leading Darwin scholars to offer exciting new titles on the life and works of this extraordinary man.

Darwinism and its Discontents

Michael Ruse

Offering a clear and comprehensive exposition of the thinking of Darwin, Michael Ruse brings the story up to day, examining important issues such as the origins of life, the fossil record, the mechanism of natural selection, and rival theories such as punctuated equilibrium, the story of human evolution (including the recently found “hobbits,” Homo floresiensis), fraud in biological science, literary approaches to evolution, and the philosophical and religious implications of Darwinism.


Edited by Frederick Burkhardt, Alison M. Pearn, and Samantha Evans

Incorporating previously unpublished material, this volume includes letters written by Darwin, and also those written to him by friends and scientific colleagues world-wide, by critics who tried to stamp out his ideas, and admirers who helped them to spread. They take up the story of Darwin's life in 1860, in the immediate aftermath of the publication of On the Origin of Species, and carry it through one of the most intense and productive decades of his career.


Edited by Frederick Burkhardt

Beginning with a charming set of letters written to an unnamed friend at the age of twelve, through his university years in Edinburgh and Cambridge up to the publication of his most famous work, On the Origin of Species in 1859, these letters chart one of the most exciting periods of Darwin's life, including the voyage of the Beagle and subsequent studies which led him to develop his theory of natural selection.

The Correspondence of Charles Darwin: Volume 16, 1868

Edited by Frederick Burkhardt

In January of 1868, Darwin’s Variation under Domestication was published. Responses to this new book, added to Darwin’s continuing research into sexual selection and the expression of the emotions, increased the quantity of Darwin’s correspondence to such an extent that that we present the letters he wrote and received during this period in chronological order across two volumes.
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« Reply #37 on: February 09, 2009, 07:58:52 am »

                                             Hail Darwin: His theory survives

                                                         Happy 200th!

The Philadelphia Enquirer
Feb. 9, 2009

If it's true, as Charles Darwin posited, that the fittest survive, then his teachings may afford a prime example. To celebrate his 200th birthday this week, scientists from Philadelphia and beyond are giving free talks on the importance of evolution in fields ranging from botany to AIDS research.


The events begin Thursday, Darwin's birthday, with the opening of a two-day public symposium:

Darwin's Legacy in 21st Century Biology.

Speakers include

animal behavior expert Dorothy Cheney,

renowned Penn geneticist Haig Kazazian,

and marine biologist Rick Grosberg.

Talks both days will be in the Raney Auditorium of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.


Giving the keynote speech on Thursday at 6 p.m. will be Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller, who opposed intelligent design in the case against the Dover school district in York County, Pa., that came to trial in 2005.


On Sunday, the museum is holding a free birthday celebration from 1 to 4 p.m. On display will be casts of the bones of our hominid ancestors who lived up to three million years ago. The Penn Museum boasts the world's largest collection of such evidence of early man.


Adults can take in brief talks by varied experts while kids can play evolutionary twister and see a Charles Darwin look-alike play a jaunty game of badminton.


At the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, a panel of teachers on March 30 will discuss the challenges of teaching evolution. The academy was an early supporter of evolution, tapping Darwin as a member in 1860.


The American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia offers its own Darwin exhibit on April 17, drawing from the largest collection of Darwin materials in North America. These include the biologist's correspondence with Charles Lyell, the geologist who first showed that the Earth was older than 6,000 years. This gave Darwin the epochs he needed for evolution to make sense. Once again, Darwin adapted.


- Faye Flam
The Philadelphia Enquirer
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« Reply #38 on: March 23, 2009, 11:57:41 am »

                                       Archives shed light on Darwin's student days

Peter Griffiths
– Sun Mar 22, 2009

– With someone to polish his shoes, make his bed and stoke the fire in his spacious rooms, Charles Darwin enjoyed the sort of pampered university life that today's debt-laden British students can only dream about.

Two hundred years after his birth, academics have uncovered new details of his comfortable existence at the University of Cambridge before he embarked on the grueling five-year voyage that would transform science's view of the world.

Six leather-bound ledgers unearthed in the university archives reveal how he lived in the most expensive rooms available to a student of his rank from 1828 to 1831.

He hired a battery of staff to help him with the daily chores, including a scullion (dishwasher), a laundress and a shoeblack (someone who cleans shoes).

A tailor, hatter and barber made sure he was well presented, while a chimney sweep and a coalman kept his fire going. He even paid five and a half pence extra each day to have vegetables with the basic ration of meat and beer at Christ's College.

Darwin scholar Dr John van Wyhe, of the University of Cambridge, said little was known about the scientist's student life before his outgoings were found in the mainly hand-written ledgers detailing students' finances.

"It is just wonderful to have a previously unknown insight into what Darwin was up to in this part of his life," he told Reuters. "These are really intimate details."

The archives were published on the Internet on Monday at

Darwin's bill topped 636 pounds during his three years of study for a general bachelor of arts degree at Cambridge, a time he would later describe as "the most joyful of my happy life."

That substantial sum would have been fairly typical for a student at Cambridge in the 19th century. The bills were paid by his wealthy father, Robert Darwin, a doctor.

"Cambridge was full of well-to-do gentlemen living a pretty good life," van Wyhe said. "When you look at the books, you see he is just one of a hundred students or whatever. He is well off, but they are all well off."

As well as the paid help, Darwin could also rely on the college "gyp," the Cambridge nickname for a valet or servant.

With so much help and just two hours of mathematics and classics lectures each morning, there was plenty of time for socializing or private study, van Wyhe said.

"He would be out shooting, collecting beetles, doing his scientific hobbies or visiting friends," he said. "They played cards and drank wine at night, just like students always have."

After leaving Cambridge, Darwin set sail on the Beagle bound for South America and Australasia where he developed his theories on evolution that would later be published in his seminal book "On the Origin of Species."
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