Once again, it’s time for scholars around the world to reflect on and celebrate Darwin’s contributions to science and promote evolutionary biology research, in honor of Darwin Day. And at Faculty Opinions, we are no exception. Let’s take a look at the articles Recommended by our Faculty that have added to and highlighted the ground-breaking work that Darwin has produced and inspired.
Key to the celebrations of Darwin Day is the scientific theory of natural selection from the joint presentation of his and Alfred Russel Wallace’s research to the Linnean Society in 1858. The following year, Darwin published ‘On the Origin of Species’ (the title in full ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life’). These works describe natural selection as the process by which species that are better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring and it is now regarded as the significant mechanism that causes evolution.
Charles Darwin was born on 12 February 1809 and Darwin Day has been commemorated sporadically since his death and more consistently since the centenary of his birth in 2009. Indeed, recent recommendations by our Faculty Members featured in this blog demonstrate that Darwin’s curiosities and hypotheses still intrigue researchers in cases of natural selection observed across different scientific fields.
Why do island insects lose their ability to fly? Daniel Blumstein takes an interest in this question in his recommendation of the paper titled “Wind plays a major but not exclusive role in the prevalence of insect flight loss on remote islands.” Darwin thought that it was because strong winds were more likely to blow insects off islands if they had wings. The article authors confirm Darwin was mostly, but not completely, right about this reason for flight loss!
Adam Siepielski picks this study on the iconic Galapagos finches, also known as Darwin’s finches, the diversity of their beaks famously observed to take advantage of different types of food, the finches appear to take part in a dynamic coevolutionary arms race with their food stuff as shown in Siepelski’s recommendation.
Ferdinando Boero and Amanda Bates look at a mathematical model that theorizes the processes of how species adapt in fluctuating environments and to help explain the variability seen in nature. Michael Travisano suggests this review on the creativity of natural selection, which also questions what constitutes modern Darwinism.
And perhaps of greatest importance at present are the studies highlighted by our Faculty on the processes directing the origins and evolution of Sars-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19 infection. Benoit Coulombe, Davidson Hamer and Anirban Basu with Surajit Chakraborty look at the viral zoonotic transmission from animals to humans. Victor Norris and Norman Johnson explore the potential pathogenetic molecular mechanisms of the virus and the implications for the development of vaccines. Further examples of the evolutionary biology of Sars-CoV-2 can be found on our free to access COVID-19 collections page.
These examples from our Faculty show that evolutionary biology underlies diverse scientific fields and is thus vital to all aspects of life. At every level from schoolchild to researcher the importance of an awareness of evolution is paramount and observation of Darwin Day can help with this education. We live in a world where it can appear that there is an increasing amount of unhealthy skepticism towards basic scientific theories. It is thus somewhat reassuring that aspects of Darwin’s research still make mainstream news and continue to be of enormous interest to the general public and scholars alike.