University of Chicago to host "evo-devo" symposium

April 26, 1999

The University of Chicago's biological sciences division will sponsor a symposium bringing together some of the biggest names in evolutionary developmental biology. The symposium, titled "The Developmental Basis of Evolutionary Change," will be held May 13-15, 1999.

Evolutionary developmental biology, also known as "evo-devo" studies the genes that control embryonic development in different organisms to answer questions about evolution.

"This is a new field that has generated a lot of data that can allow us to go back and reexamine old questions we thought we knew the answers to," says Gregory Davis, a third-year graduate student who helped organize the symposium.

For example, scientists used to think that the common ancestor to all complex animals had to be a relatively complex creature itself, no matter how primitive. But developmental geneticists think the creature might have been simpler, relying on a few sets of genes to shuffle and rearrange to produce the myriad different body plans we see today.

Davis, along with fifth-year grad student William Browne and third year grad student James McClintock, began putting together the symposium more than a year ago. "We wanted to start a discussion on evo-devo with big name scientists, and we wanted to be a part of it," says Browne. "We also wanted to take advantage of the concentration of important scientists working in evo-devo in the midwest."

The University of Chicago's David Jablonski, a paleogeologist along with Douglas Erwin, a paleobiologist from the Smithsonian Institution, and James Valentine, a paleobiologist from the University of California, Berkeley, will give the keynote speech. "Together, we will propose an upper and lower limit for the complexity of the organism that gave rise to all the different phyla," says Jablonski.

The keynote address at the Biological Sciences Learning Center will be followed by a reception in the Ida Noyes Building. Ida Noyes will also be the location of both the speaker and poster sessions on Friday and Saturday. Attendance is open to the public, $20 for non-students, and $10 for students.

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