Oct. 18, 2001
Vol. 21 No. 3

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    Graduate students plan second conference on evolutionary and developmental biology

    By Jeanne Galatzer-Levy
    Medical Center Public Affairs

    Biologists from across the globe will meet at the University to explore the intersection of evolutionary and developmental biology at a 2001 Evo-Devo Conference titled “The Developmental Basis of Evolutionary Change,” which is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 25 through Sunday, Oct. 28.

    The conference will provide developmental and evolutionary biologists an opportunity to meet, discuss and learn how their different approaches may illuminate their converging questions. As they study development, biologists are teasing out the molecular mechanisms that control the way an embryo becomes a chicken or a salamander. As developmental biologists study the molecules that signal and shape these creatures, evolutionary biologists are asking how those same signals might create new species of offspring. More and more, the two groups believe that understanding the fundamentals that shape development is the key to understanding evolution.

    This year’s conference has been organized by Matt Giorgianni and Alivia Price, both graduate students in the Committee on Developmental Biology, and Courtney Babbitt, a graduate student in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology.

    The conference is drawing interest from researchers, many graduate students, from all over the United States as well as from Japan and Europe. True to its roots as a graduate-student event, the conference will include special dinners with faculty, bringing together noted speakers and interested students.

    “The fun part was inviting speakers,” said Babbitt. “We put together a ‘wish list’ of people we would like to have here, and then almost everyone said ‘yes.’ The BSD administration was tremendous––the nitty gritty details are a lot of work and we got support in everything from assigning rooms to finding grants.”

    The weekend will be packed with lectures and events––27 speakers, including six presentations by graduate students, dinners, poster sessions and a closing reception. Two speakers will present lectures for the keynote address. Brian Hall, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, will present “The Cell of Evo-Devo,” and Nipam Patel, Assistant Professor in Organismal Biology & Anatomy, will follow Hall’s talk with “The Evolution of Arthropod Pattern Formation.”

    The University’s first Evo-Devo conference was in 1999. “The first Evo-Devo was very general, trying to define the intersection of our fields,” said Giorgianni. “This one is focused on specific questions while still addressing the sheer diversity of approaches and animals that make up these fields. We’ve tried to do a better job of bringing in paleontologists, too. We have people who are looking at 500-million-year-old embryos.”

    Price added, “There isn’t yet a set way to think about evolutionary-developmental biology. The field is just developing. This Evo-Devo conference is really comprehensive––anything that’s not covered in the talks is covered in the poster sessions.”

    For more information on speakers, topics and conference events, visit the Evo-Devo Web site at http://evodevo.bsd.uchicago.edu.