Lecturer a Leader in Evolutionary Developmental Biology or ‘Evo-Devo’
SPOKANE, Wash. – Sean B. Carroll – an award-winning, internationally known scientist, author, and educator – will deliver Gonzaga University’s 26th annual O’Leary Lecture titled, “Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species,” 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 17 in the Cataldo Hall Globe Room. The free event is open to the public.
Carroll, the Allan Wilson Professor of Molecular Biology, Genetics, and Medical Genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and vice president for science education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, also will deliver a more specialized free talk to Gonzaga science majors, and the public, at 12:05 p.m., also Nov. 17, in the Jepson Center’s Wolff Auditorium. The lecture is titled, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful: Evo-Devo and an Expanding Evolutionary Synthesis.” HHMI is the nation’s largest private supporter of science education.
“Sean is a gifted scientist who also displays an extraordinary talent for translating complicated scientific ideas in compelling, understandable ways to members of the public of all ages,” said Robert Tjian, HHMI president.
Carroll studies the development and evolution of animal form and is a leader in the field of evolutionary developmental biology, or “evo-devo.” Utilizing tools of modern molecular biology and genetics, Carroll and colleagues have revealed how changes in gene regulation during development shape the evolution of body parts and body patterns.
Carroll also is widely known as a speaker and writer about scientific subjects, having authored six books, including “Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Origins of Species,” a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award in nonfiction. He writes a monthly column – called “Remarkable Creatures” – for The New York Times and has been a consulting producer for the public television program NOVA. He received the 2010 Stephen Jay Gould Prize in recognition of his efforts to advance public understanding of evolutionary science.
“HHMI has had a big impact in shaping how science is taught, particularly at the undergraduate level. Colleges and universities are shaking up what they teach and HHMI has been a catalyst for that change,” Carroll said.
Gonzaga is among the nation’s best undergraduate institutions sharing $60 million from HHMI to help usher in a new era of science education in the United States. In 2008, Gonzaga announced its first-ever grant from the HHMI Undergraduate Science Education Program totaling $1.2 million. The funding has literally transformed the University’s already successful science programs and nearly tripled research opportunities for undergraduate science majors. Biology Professor Nancy Staub serves as Gonzaga’s program director for the HHMI grant.
Carroll traces his own fascination with science to a childhood interest in collecting snakes, which inspired his first experiments (choice of food) and sense of beauty (patterns of their skin). Today, Carroll’s laboratory uses fruit flies – Drosophila melanogaster and its relatives – as models to understand how new body patterns evolve over time.
In a series of studies published the last several years, Carroll and colleagues traced the origin of new and complex body color patterns and pinpointed mutations in gene regulatory elements responsible for changing when and where in the body genes are used. “We are now able to trace the genetic steps of evolution in unprecedented detail. What our work has revealed is that, in general, body parts and body patterns evolve through ‘teaching old genes new tricks,’ that is, using very old genes in new way,” he said.
An exemplary teacher, Carroll in 2009 received the Viktor Hamburger Outstanding Educator Prize from the Society for Developmental Biology. The prize honored Carroll’s contributions to the field and singled out his leadership as a mentor and educator. He also received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers.
Carroll graduated summa cum laude from the Washington University in St. Louis, and earned a Ph.D. in immunology from Tufts University, where he worked in David Stollar’s lab. Carroll did his postdoctoral research at University of Colorado, Boulder, in the lab of Matt Scott (now an HHMI investigator at Stanford University School of Medicine) where he began his explorations in embryology and the study of genes that control body organization in the developing fruit fly.
Gonzaga annually hosts a distinguished scientist from a major research university or institute as the O’Leary Lecturer for several days, primarily to meet with Gonzaga science majors. The visiting scientist delivers a specialized lecture and is officially introduced as the O’Leary Distinguished Scientist at a public lecture designed for general audiences.