The Origin of Species

Today is a very big day in the history of science: it’s the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s monumental work, The Origin of Species. Its beautifully simple hypothesis–that life evolves through the natural selection of adaptive traits–was supported with multitudinous data that Darwin collected on his world travels and in his studies at home.

Though today’s evolutionary theory has altered some of Darwin’s original hypotheses–for example, we now understand the role genes play in natural selection, something that had not yet emerged in Darwin’s time–Origin’s central thesis remains highly relevant to our lives, even if we don’t always realize it. Our understanding of mutating viruses and how to combat them, for instance, would not be possible without Darwin’s insight.

Our reference department has done a great job of pulling together a list of resources related to Darwin’s life and his most influential work, and I encourage you to check it out. Beyond those resources, I recommend reading Jonathan Weiner’s The Beak of the Finch, a remarkable book about two scientists’ observations of evolution-in-action amongst the finches of the Galapagos Islands.

And if you thought you could avoid talk of brain-eating in a blog post about evolution, think again. Very interesting research about ritualistic brain-eating and what it tells us about recent human evolution was published recently, and it’s quite an addition to the ever-expanding story of our species.

Thanks again, Mr. Darwin, for providing the framework to that story.

–Wes

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