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Darwin Day offers timely look at 150-year-old theory

News Release — 9 February 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media contact: Sue Stevens, (817) 272-3317, sstevens@uta.edu

ARLINGTON - The University of Texas at Arlington Department of Biology invites the public to an unusual all-day birthday celebration on Thursday, Feb. 12 in Room 100, Nedderman Hall, 416 S. Yates St.


The event is part of an international observance of Charles Darwin's 200th birthday, as well as the 150th anniversary of the publication of his "On the Origin of Species," a seminal work in evolutionary biology. The Darwin Day celebration includes more than 474 events in 38 countries, all commemorating the discoveries and life of the man who first scientifically described biological evolution via natural selection.


Revisiting Darwin's theories has added timeliness in Texas, where the state Board of Education is split on whether high school biology students should continue to be instructed to consider the weaknesses as well as strengths of the theory of evolution in new state curriculum standards for science with a final vote expected this spring. Also, at UT Arlington, biology department genome researcher Cedric Feschotte and his colleagues recently discovered internationally reported evidence of horizontal gene transfer, the genetic transfer of DNA from one species to a different species, in mammals. The discovery that mammals can receive DNA other than through parents adds a new dimension to Darwin's "Tree of Life."


UT Arlington's Darwin Day event will feature well-known speakers from the University of Chicago and Cornell University and a panel discussion on the state of evolution education in Texas.


Darwin Day begins with opening remarks at 9 a.m. followed by an address on "Probing the genetic basis of human brain evolution," by Dr. Bruce Lahn of the University of Chicago's Department of Human Genetics. Lahn's primary research areas are the genetic basis of human brain development and stem cell biology. Dr. Harry Greene of Cornell University's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology will speak at 2 p.m. on "Natural history, aesthetics and conservation."
The panel discussion begins at 3:30 p.m. chaired by Dr. Shawn Christensen, assistant professor of biology at UT Arlington. Panelists are the university's sociology program director Ray Eve and Chris Comer, former science curriculum director for the Texas Board of Education.


Eve is the author of the 1990 book, "The Creationist Movement in Modern America," concerning the debate over teaching the theory of evolution. In November 2008, he published a report "Evolution, creationism & public schools: Surveying what Texas scientists think about educating our kids in the 21st Century," based on 464 interviews with biology and physical anthropologists who teach the theory of evolution in science courses at Texas public and private colleges and universities.
Darwin Day will end with a birthday cake and final closing remarks at 5 p.m. All events are free and open to the public.


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