Saturday, August 29, 2015

Thursday: Chemical Heritage Foundation Features Symposium On Symbiosis

Some think symbiosis is a more important factor in our evolution than currently believed. Developmental biologist Scott Gilbert explains

Thursday: Chemical Heritage Foundation Features Symposium On Symbiosis


The following is a blog post. For this weeks’ evolution column, click here.

I’m hoping to get next week’s column finished in time to go to this talk at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. The speaker, Scott Gilbert, is a developmental biologist at Swarthmore. He helped advise the Vatican on stem cells and evolution, and he advised me when I used to write my infamous column about sex for the Inquirer.

I know he has some interesting thoughts on symbiosis – mutually beneficial relationships between species.

Symbiosis rules, and we are all lichens. What would “individual selection” entail if there were no real “individuals” to select? Do we have to formulate a new type of selection, and how does the whole prevent its parts from cheating?

From that CHF blurb, it sounds like Gilbert will touch on group selection – the idea that some evolution can be driven by natural selection acting on whole groups rather than individuals. Most biologists say selection at this level was not important. Richard Dawkins is among them – he told me that dispelling group selection mythology was one of his motivations for writing The Selfish Gene. On the other side, E.O. Wilson has started to write about it in a more favorable light.


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About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at Reach Planet of the at

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