A brief history of evolutionary biology

Published on February 29, 2016   24 min

Other Talks in the Series: Evolutionary Physiology

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A Brief History of Evolutionary Biology. I am Neil Blackstone from Northern Illinois University.
Evolution is as close to a general theory of biology as we have. Remarkably, even in the age of genomics, evolutionary theory can be traced relatively intact back to the work of a 19th century individual, Charles Darwin. The year 2009 was the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of one of his most important works, "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection".
Of course, Darwin built on earlier ideas. In particular, I will mention two. One of the very powerful ideas that was developed in 19th century Europe was the uniformitarian view of the Earth's geology. Developed by James Hutton and others, this view summarized by "the present is the key to the past", eventually led to the geological time scale, which is central to our understanding of the history of life and is shown in this figure. Hutton was unfortunately so brilliant, no one could really understand a word he said. And his theory was popularized and made more accessible by Charles Lyell's principles of geology, which had a lasting influence on Darwin.
Other political and social developments in 19th century Europe include the communist manifesto published in 1848. Communism closely identifies with the evolutionary theory of Lamarck, a predecessor of Darwin. Lamarck's theory of evolution usually summarized as the inheritance of acquired characteristics, emphasizes that the organism must strive for the acquisition of novel characteristics. For instance, a giraffe with a short neck must struggle to lengthen its neck, stretching it every day, year in, year out. Only then will it acquire and pass on the longer neck. Thus the parallel to the dialectic of communist ideology is clear.