Co-sponsored by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center Thursday, October 16-17, 2008 at the National Association of Biology Teachers Conference, Memphis, TN


AIBS, in conjunction with the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), co-sponsored the fifth annual evolution symposium at the 2008 National Association of Biology Teachers annual conference. The theme of the symposium was "Illuminating Biology: An Evolutionary Perspective," which focused on the benefits of applying evolutionary theory in biological sub-disciplines where evolutionary concepts have not traditionally played a prominent role. The four speakers provided examples of successful evolutionary-based research in biochemistry, developmental biology, molecular biology, and neurobiology. A workshop was held the day after the symposium to provide educators with tools to bring this message back to their students.




Gordon Uno - University of Oklahoma and Chair of AIBS Education Committee



Joram Piatigorsky - National Eye Institute-NIH

Gene Sharing and Evolution: Surprising Lessons from Lens Crystallins
Piatigorsky's lab has developed the concept of "gene sharing" through their studies on lens crystallins, abundant water-soluble proteins of the transparent lens responsible for its optical, refractive properties required for focused vision. Gene sharing refers to the way that a single gene may be involved in multiple functions. Gene sharing allows proteins to serve new functions without relinquishing their original functions. Gene sharing occurs widely and appears to be a fundamental principle of evolution.


Robert Blankenship- Washington University in St. Louis

Evolutionary Relationships Among Phototrophic Bacteria Deduced from Whole Genome Comparisons
The invention and perfection of photosynthesis is without question one of the true milestones in the evolution of life on Earth. The development of the ability of some photosynthetic organisms to oxidize water to form molecular oxygen changed the redox balance of the Earth and provided the energetic basis for more advanced life to develop. This talk will discuss the complex nonlinear evolutionary path that has led to the modern process of photosynthesis.


Patricia Wittkopp - University of Michigan

Bringing an Evolutionary Perspective to Developmental Biology
The Wittkopp lab investigates the genetic basis of phenotypic evolution. The genetic and molecular mechanisms controlling development are the product of evolution and can influence the way in which traits evolve. This talk will discuss the ways in which an appreciation of natural history and evolutionary processes can enhance our understanding of animal development.


Georg Striedter - University of California - Irvine

Large and Complex Brains Evolved Repeatedly
Large and complex brains evolved not just in primates, but also in other taxonomic groups, including octopuses, manta rays, electric fishes, parrots, crows, dolphins, and elephants. Most of these species are highly social. Although the brains of different species share myriad similarities, they also differ in many respects. Dr. Striedter aims to understand how and why those species differences arose. The ultimate goal of this research is to test theories about how brains evolve.


Brian Wiegmann - Associate Director of Education and Outreach, National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, Durham, NC



Teacher Workshop Program

Taking place the day after the symposium, this half-day event will built upon the themes of the symposium. Sponsored by AIBS and NESCent with presentations by Anna Thanukos and Jennifer Collins from the Understanding Evolution project, Ethel Stanley and Sam Donovan from BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium, and Kristin Jenkins and Brian Wiegmann of NESCent.



Introductions and Overview


Presented by Anna Thanukos and Jennifer Collins of Understanding Evolution

Session 1: Evolution and Conservation
This session will focus on how whaling conservation efforts monitor commercial whale meat based on phylogenetic relationships. Participants will be introduced to a new hands-on classroom activity.


Group discussion about resources including good resources and missing resources.


Presented by Sam Donovan and Ethel Stanley of BioQUEST, and Brian Wiegmann and Kristin Jenkins of NESCent.

Session 2 Evolution and Biocontrol
Participants will learn how systematics has been used to select biocontrol agents through a case study with paperbark trees in Florida. This session will include information on 'tree reading, specifically identifying common student misconceptions and how to avoid them.

Speaker Presentations

The presentations from the 2008 symposium are now available on the NESCent website. The presentations are movies of each speaker, both audio and visual of the scientists, synchronized with the slides from their PowerPoints. Viewing these movies is almost like being at the symposium itself! Please visit: to view presentations from 2008 and previous symposia.

Teacher Resources

Staff from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) collected teaching and learning resources and references related to the symposium and disseminated this information during the NABT symposium via a CD-rom. The material was placed on the NESCent website, free for anyone to view and use. To view speaker information, education resources, general evolution teaching resources, and other information from the 2008 "Illuminating Biology: An Evolutionary Perspective" symposium, go to: For educator resources from previous symposia, go to


For more information, contact Susan Musante, AIBS Education Programs Manager at or 703-674-2500 x311.

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