Centre for Ecology and Evolution


History of Darwin's Birthday Debate

A brief history of the Darwin's Birthday Debates organised by CEE. Thanks to Jim Mallet and Sandra Knapp for compiling.

Date Event
1809 Charles Robert Darwin born 12 February
1992 The "London Evolution Group", forerunner of the CEE, founded. Evolutionary biologists were felt to be scattered across the London area, and should get to know each other better. And have more parties.
1993 We had a Darwin's Birthday Party at our house.
About here, the Evolution Special Interest Group of the Linnean Society is founded.
1994 Derek Briggs & Simon Conway Morris on "Evolution in the Cambrian: Biology's big Bang? Or just a damp squib?" Linnean Society of London, Piccadilly. Both agree that Steven Jay Gould misinterpreted their work.
About here, the CEE is founded. Originally to keep Robin Dunbar from leaving UCL for Liverpool. Robin Dunbar goes to Liverpool anyway, money remains; Linda Partridge arrives, becomes director of the CEE.
1995 John Maynard Smith & Stuart Kauffman on "Is life at the edge of chaos?" Linnean Society of London, Piccadilly. Friendly disagreement. John Maddox, the editor of Nature, writes leading article "Polite Row about Models...". The Santa Fé Institute also has a write-up about this, "The Great Complexity Debate".
1996 Russ Lande & Steve O'Brien on: "Conservation genetics: is it useful?" Linnean Society of London, Piccadilly. Speakers disagree
1997 Mild problems with The Linnean Society of London, Piccadilly, and anyway we couldn't think of a subject. We just had a party at our house.
1998 Jim Lake & Tom Cavalier Smith: "The Tree of Life." First DBP to be held at the Natural History Museum.
1999 Jim Patton & Steve Hubbell: "Why are there so many species in the tropics?" Natural History Museum.  Steve Hubbell later (2001) publishes "The Unified Neutral Theory of Biodiversity and Biogeography.  Princeton University Press.
2000 Peter Holland & Enrico Coen: "Evolution and Development." Natural History Museum.
2001 Michael Foote & Blair Hedges: "The Phylogenetic Fuse." Natural History Museum. Organised by Mike Coates and Sandra Knapp. Over supper, Blair Hedges is hit on the head with a toy hammer by supporter of Michael Foote.
2002 Camille Parmesan & Brian Huntley. "Evolution and Ecology of Climate Change: Past, Present and Future." Natural History Museum.
2003 Chris Stringer and Mark Stoneking. "Origin of our species."  Natural History Museum
2004 Nick Barton and Mohamed Noor.  "Species and the origins of biodiversity."  Natural History Museum.
2005 Michael Lynch and Michael Ashburner.  "Evolution: the genomic view."  Natural History Museum.
2006 Geoff West and Sean Nee. "Do general laws explain ecology and evolution?" Natural History Museum.
2007 Jeremy Jackson and Steve Palumbi. "The past, present and future of evolution under the sea" Natural History Museum.
2008 David Stern and Brian Charlesworth. "Natura non facit saltum.  Or does it?"  Natural History Museum.
2009 Rob Barton & Robin Dunbar “Organs of extreme perfection and complication: how brains evolved” Natural History Museum.
2010 Sandy Knapp (standing in for Georgina Mace) & Bill Adams “Biodiversity 2010: are we locked on target?” Natural History Museum.
2011 Gavin Naylor & Janine Caira “Do hosts determine the distribution of parasites in the oceans?” Natural History Museum.
2012 David Gems & Daryl Shanley “How aging evolves” Natural History Museum.
2013 Detlev Arendt & Hervé Philippe “ 25 years since Field et al. – will the real Urbilateria please stand up?” Natural History Museum.

Laurent Lohmann & David Haig “rb>c@50 – the golden anniversary of Hamilton’s rule” Natural History Museum – held on Darwin’s actual birthday!!

Laurent Lehmann (Université de Lausanne, Switzerland) - Hamilton’s 1964 legacy: the rule that rules them all and the myth of inclusive fitness maximization

This talk will present the key steps to derive the rb-c>0 rule and discuss the two results obtained by Hamilton in his 1964 paper: (1) an equation describing allele frequency change under natural selection expressed in terms of phenotypic cost and benefit and a genealogical concept of relatedness; and (2) a result about the maximization of inclusive fitness. The first result has been extended to all conditions and provides the rule that rules them all. The second result applies only under narrow conditions and points to a mismatch between Hamilton's aim for inclusive fitness and what has been proved over the last 50 years.

David Haig (Harvard University, USA) - All-inclusive fitness: the enduring legacy of W. D. Hamilton

W. D. Hamilton’s concept of inclusive fitness revolutionized the way we think about social interactions. Individuals were shown to have an interest in each other’s well-being to the extent that they shared common genes. His insights have had unexpected medical applications to understanding conflicts within genomes between genes inherited from fathers and genes inherited from mothers and to understanding how sibling rivalry can be expressed in the mother’s womb during the early stages of pregnancy.


Nick Lane (UCL) & David Deamer (UCSC) How Did Life Begin?
Natural History Museum

Polymerization in hydrothermal conditions: Darwin's prescient idea.

Dave Deamer, Department of Bimolecular Engineering, University of California, Santa Cruz CA In an often quoted note to Joseph Hooker in 1871, Darwin speculated that life may have begun in a "warm little pond." We have tested this idea in simulations of fluctuating hydrothermal fields associated with volcanism. We found that the chemical energy available in such conditions can drive polymerization of ordinary mononucleotides into surprisingly long oligonucleotides resembling ribonucleic acid (RNA). The polymerization occurs in lipid environments so that the RNA-like polymers become encapsulated in membranous compartments to form protocells, the first milestone on the evolutionary path toward primitive cellular life. 

Energy and Matter at the Origin of Life

Nick Lane, Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL There is a paradox at the base of life. Membrane bioenergetics - the use of ion gradients across membranes to drive carbon and energy metabolism - are universal, but membranes are not. Radical differences between bacteria and archaea in membrane chemistry and active ion pumping suggest that LUCA, the last universal common ancestor, may have used natural proton gradients in alkaline hydrothermal vents to drive growth. I will outline a possible scenario for the origin of life in this environment, and present some experimental and modelling results which suggest that proton gradients could have driven the transition from geochemistry to biochemistry, and the deep divergence of archaea and bacteria.

"  2016

Title of Debate: How does animal behaviour influence evolution?

Speaker: Professor Rebecca Kilner, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge

Title: Life After Death: Social Evolution in a Grave

Abstract: Although it is well-understood how evolution influences animal behaviour, it is much clear how adaptive behaviour then influences the subsequent course of evolution. Our lab focuses on one sort of behaviour, parental care, and uses experiments on the burying beetle to analyse how parental care influences distinct components of the evolutionary process. I will describe experiments that show how burying beetle parents influence the ecological conditions experienced by developing offspring, how parents can be agents of natural selection, and how different regimes of post-hatching care can accelerate or retard the pace of evolutionary change.

Speaker: Professor Jane Reid, School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen

Title: Polyandry and Inbreeding: Social Evolution and Mating

Abstract:Reproductive strategies enacted by individual organisms define social interactions and influence allele and genotype frequencies in subsequent generations, and thereby shape the course of evolution.

However, we still do not fully understand the evolution or persistence of the widespread reproductive strategies that involve multiple mating, inbreeding and parental care. I applied quantitative genetic analyses to comprehensive pedigree, reproductive strategy and fitness data from socially monogamous but genetically promiscuous song sparrows (Melospiza melodia), to estimate genetic (co)variances that could drive or constrain ongoing micro-evolution of reproductive strategies.

These analyses show how interactions between females and males can shape reproductive strategies, and illustrate how key evolutionary hypotheses can be explicitly tested in nature.