on February 12th, 2016 No Comments
You might have thought this was Lincoln’s birthday, or just Presidents’ Day weekend, but today is also the 207th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday, otherwise known as Darwin Day.
I called Paul Norman, PhD — a senior research scientist who studies genetic variation, especially in human immune cells — and asked him how the theory of evolution has influenced his work. In a charming academic parry and thrust, he immediately pointed out to me that Darwin didn’t come up with the theory of evolution.
The idea that living organisms can change, or evolve, over time had been around for a long time. Even the related idea that all organisms are related through “common descent” from a single ancient ancestor wasn’t entirely new.
What Darwin did was come up with was a mechanism — natural selection — that could explain how evolution could happen. And Darwin was able to persuade people that evolution is happening all around us and how it works. He left an indelible stamp on all of biology.
It turns out that Norman has a special connection to Darwin: The two scientists were born and raised just a mile apart in the same medieval town of Shrewsbury, where Darwin famously hiked, hunted and collected beetles.
Evolution informs the work that Norman does every day, as well as that of most people in the biological science, he says. “It’s rare that one person has such a long lasting influence.”