Gee Research Blog

Dating Mammalian Evolution

Fri, 28 Mar 2014 15:14:37 +0000

When the age of the dinosaurs ended around 65 million years ago, mammals stepped in to fill the gap, and the age of the placentals began. However, whether early placental mammals were already present on Earth before the demise of the dinosaurs has been the subject of a long standing debate. Recent research in GEE [...]


The Delicate Balance of Effect and Response

Tue, 18 Feb 2014 11:50:36 +0000

We may not always be aware of it, but many wild plants, animals, fungi and even bacteria, provide crucial services to us which keep the ecosystems of Earth functioning. Environmental changes caused by human activities are now threatening many species, and those that cannot withstand these changes may be lost forever, potentially taking the services [...]


It’s All in the Wrist

Fri, 20 Dec 2013 16:18:20 +0000

The evolution of the primate wrist has been dramatic, enabling primates to adapt to a wide variety of lifestyles and walking styles, including tree-swinging, climbing and terrestrial walking both on four legs and two. In hominids, the evolution of the bipedal gait freed up the forelimbs for tool use, and the wrist evolved independently from [...]


The Transcriptional Profile of A ‘Wingman’

Wed, 27 Nov 2013 14:25:48 +0000

In many species, males have special adaptations to attract females. From antlers to stalk-eyes, to bright plumage and beards, males across the animal kingdom work hard to look attractive to the opposite sex. In some species, looking good isn’t enough, though. Male wild turkeys need a less attractive ‘wingman’ to help him attract a woman. [...]


Damage and Fidelity: The Role of the Female Germline in mtDNA Inheritance

Mon, 11 Nov 2013 15:13:12 +0000

Billions of years ago, one single-celled organism engulfed another, beginning a symbiotic interaction that would change live on Earth forever. The mitochondria are what remains of this symbiotic event, and are responsible for producing energy in all eukaryotic cells. Derived from a free-living organism, they carry their own genes, but these genes are at risk [...]


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 retains elements of the Departments of Botany, of Microbiology and of Biometry. We continue to offer innovative courses - we were, for example, the first UK University to introduce a BSc in Human Genetics – and are still active in a wide range of scientific fields.

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.

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 while D M S Watson played an important part in early work on plant and lizard fossils.

More recently, John Maynard Smith pioneered the use of game theory in understanding the evolution of selfish, selfless and spiteful behaviour in animals, 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 19 feb 13 15:44