Gee Research Blog

It Pays to Be Different:Evolutionary Distinctiveness and Conservation Priorities

Tue, 15 Jul 2014 13:15:25 +0000

The world is currently experiencing an extinction crisis. A mass extinction on a scale not seen since the dinosaurs. While conservationists work tirelessly to try and protect the World’s biodiversity, it will not be possible to save everything, and it is important to focus conservation efforts intelligently. Evolutionary distinctiveness is a measure of how isolated [...]


Synthetic Biology and Conservation

Mon, 07 Jul 2014 16:20:18 +0000

Synthetic biology, a hybrid between Engineering and Biology, is an emerging field of research promising to change the way we think about manufacturing, medicine, food production, and even conservation and sustainability. A review paper released this month in Oryx, authored by Dr Kent Redford, Professor William Adams, Dr Rob Carlson, Bertina Ceccarelli and CBER’s Professor [...]


Measure Twice, Cut Once: Quantifying Biases in Sexual Selection Studies

Wed, 25 Jun 2014 10:44:30 +0000

Bateman’s principles are conceptually quite simple, but form the basis of our understanding of sexual selection across the animal kingdom. First proposed in 1948, Bateman’s three principles posit that sexual selection is more intense in males than in females for three reasons: 1) males show more variability in the number of mates they have (mating [...]


Technology for Nature?

Mon, 16 Jun 2014 13:23:54 +0000

Many of our greatest technological advances have tended to mark disaster for nature. Cars guzzle fossil fuels and contribute to global warming; industrialised farming practices cause habitat loss and pollution; computers and mobile phones require harmful mining procedures to harvest rare metals. But increasingly, ecologists and conservation biologists are asking whether we can use technology [...]


Nice Flies Don’t Finish Last: Meiotic Drive and Sexual Selection in Stalk-Eyed Flies

Thu, 12 Jun 2014 15:54:47 +0000

While it might seem as though our genes are all working together for our own good, some of them are actually rather selfish. Scientists have known about ‘selfish genetic elements’ for nearly a century, but research to understand their behaviour and effects is ongoing. Recent research in GEE reveals how sexually selected traits are signalling [...]


Former Associates


The department was formed during the recent reorganisation of the Faculty of Life Sciences that brought together scientists with shared interests in genetics, environmental and evolutionary biology who had previously been scattered among a variety of distinct departments. It traces its origins to the now extinct Department of Comparative Anatomy, founded in 1826, and the first in Britain to offer a Zoology degree. It also incorporates the Galton Laboratory, the first institution in the world to study human genetics as a science and previously named Departments of Biology, Botany, Genetics & Biometry,  Microbiology and Zoology.

Some great figures of the past have been associated with the Department - whose own building stands on the site of Charles Darwin's home.  They include Robert Grant (who taught Darwin in Edinburgh and whose extraordinary collection of animal specimens we still possess), Sir Francis Galton (Darwin's cousin, and the founder of the modern study of human genetics and - less creditably - of eugenics, whose legacy helped establish the Galton Laboratory).  Its early members included Karl Pearson and R A Fisher (jointly the founders of modern statistical science), J B S Haldane (the eccentric genius who worked on submarine escape methods and helped to place the theory of evolution on a mathematical basis), and F R Weldon, who carried out the earliest experimental studies on natural selection in action. Later, the Nobel Prize winner, Sir Peter Medawar, who worked out the genetics of tissue recognition and was central to the development of organ transplantation.

Francis Oliver

Other eminent members include the embryologist Sir Gavin de Beer who helped found what became today’s evolutionary developmental biology or “evo-devo”, Alex Comfort, a pioneer in the study of the biology of ageing (albeit perhaps better known for his book The Joy of Sex), Hans Gruneberg the first to use mutations in mice to understand the basis of human developmental abnormalities, Harry Harris who revealed the massive extent of human genetic diversity, Kenneth Kermack, the discoverer of one of the earliest pre-mammalian fossils and the marine biologist Sir Ray Lankester, who became Director of the Natural History Museum. Lionel Penrose was one of the first to work on the genetics of mental retardation. Sir Edward Salisbury was a pioneer in plant ecology and became Director of Kew Gardens. Francis Wall Oliver established the first ecological research centre in the UK at Blakeney Point, Norfolk, which is still being used by our students today and D M S Watson played an important part in early work on plant and lizard fossils.

More recently, several luminaries have contributed fundamental insights to evolutionary biology, John Maynard Smith pioneered the use of game theory in understanding the evolution of selfish, selfless and spiteful behaviour in animals, W. D. Hamilton set out his ideas about inclusive fitness and the evolution of altruism, George Price  developed his interpretation of Fisher’s fundamental theory of natural selection now known as the Price equation.  Anne McLaren was a leading figure in reproductive biology who helped establish the principles that led to in vitro fertilisation and Avrion Mitchison was instrumental in disentangling the complexities of the human immune system. Robert Race and Ruth Sanger made the first maps of the distribution of the human blood groups and elucidated the genetics and biochemistry of the Rhesus groups and others, while Cedric Smith invented some of the mathematical methods used to map human genes.

We have, then, a noble past – and, we like to think, the future looks pretty bright as well.

GavindeBeer.jpg Alex_Comfort.jpg R_A_Fisher.jpg Francis_Galton.jpg
Gavin de Beer
Alex Comfort
RA Fisher
Francis Galton
Robert_Grant.jpg JBSHALDANE.jpg Harry_Harris.jpg Ray_Lankester.jpg
 Robert Grant JBS Haldane Harry Harris  Ray Lankester
John_Maynard_Smith.jpg Anne_MacLaren.jpg Peter Medawar Av_Mitchison.jpg
John Maynard Smith
Anne McLaren
Peter Medawar
Avrion Mitchinson
Karl_Pearson.jpg Lionel_Penrose.jpg Edward_Salisbury.jpg C_A_B_Smith.jpg
Karl Pearson
Lionel Penrose
Sir Edward Salisbury
CAB Smith
Arthur_Tansley.jpg DMS_Watson.jpg F_R_Weldon.jpg  
Sir Arthur Tansley
DMS Watson
FR Weldon

A copy of The Penrose Symposium can be downloaded here

Galton Professors of Eugenics

Karl Pearson 1904-1933
Ronald Fisher 1933-1943
Lionel Penrose 1943-1965
Harry Harris 1965-1976
Elizabeth Robson 1976-1994
Nicholas Wood 2009-present

Page last modified on 10 jun 14 14:23