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The Motors and Brakes of Evolution

Martha Muñoz

Virginia Tech
Muñoz Website

Monday, Feb. 11 
7:00pm, SSMB Auditorium
Event Flyer (.pdf)

Nature can be viewed, as Darwin suggested, as a "tangled bank", full of diverse forms connected by the laws of evolution. One of nature's most ubiquitous phenomena is the unequal distribution of biological diversity. Whereas some genes, traits, and lineages diversify rapidly, others remain inert for millions of years. Why is this true? Which laws cause some features to achieve evolutionary overdrive while others straddle the slow lane? I address this question by focusing on one of evolution's most powerful architects: behavior. I discover how behavior generates phenotypic diversity in natural populations and reveal these signatures at both micro- and macroevolutionary scales.


Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecture:

Archaeology of Cultural Hybridity in the Maya Lowlands

Patricia McAnany

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
McAnany Website

Tuesday, Feb. 12
4:00pm, SSMB Auditorium
6:30pm, Grimsley 117, The Citadel
Event flyer (.pdf)

For the last few decades, the concept of hybridity has figured prominently in the scholarship of postcolonialism. Heterogeneous cultural forms produced by a combination of two or more distinct elements, however, have deep antiquity. Exploring archaeological signatures of hybridity in both the shallow and deeper past of the Maya region, we look beyond the surface characteristics of hybridity to examine the factors underlying hybrid cultural forms and their specific fragilities. Two examples of hybridity are examined: the incorporation of five-position calendrical notation (the Long Count) to the charter of rulership during the Classic period (250-950 CE) in the southern Maya Lowlands; and the entanglement of 16th-century Spanish religion, cuisine, and politics with Indigenous Yucatec Maya culture. In a twist on postcolonial discourse, the latter example suggests resistance to cultural hybridity induced by colonization (called cold fusion by some) and a preference for cultural binaries. Critiqued for its “fuzzy, elastic nature,” hybridity nonetheless captures an important part of the human experience—a proclivity towards experimentation.


Organic Astrochemistry 101: Meteorites and the Origins of Life on Earth

José Aponte

NASA Goddard Flight Center
Aponte Website

Tuesday, Feb. 12 
7:00pm, SSMB Auditorium
Event Flyer (.pdf)

Carbonaceous chondrites (carbon-rich meteorites) represent some the oldest and most primitive pieces of material formed in the Solar System; indeed, they could even be older than the Sun itself. These carbon-rich meteorites may have delivered an important concentration of organic compounds and water to the primitive Earth. Multiple organic classes, including those required for life (e.g. amino acids, carboxylic acids, nucleobases and polyols) have been identified from carbonaceous chondrites, providing valuable insights into the chemical inventory of the early Solar System, the primordial synthesis of organic matter, and the question of how life appeared on Earth.

Amino acids constitute the basic building blocks of all protein-based living organisms on Earth and thus, they are among the most intriguing and studied meteoritic organic compounds found. Homochirality (predominance of the L enantiomer) in terrestrial biological proteins is a fundamental feature of life as we know it. L-enantiomeric excesses have been observed in some meteoritic amino acids, raising interesting questions about a potential link between meteorites and terrestrial homochirality. In addition, the stable isotopic compositions (D, 13C, 15N) of meteoritic organic compounds provide information on their formation mechanisms and histories. Contrasting the distribution, chirality and isotopic composition of meteoritic organic compounds in a wide range of carbonaceous chondrites provide important insights on the composition and environments of the protosolar nebula, the meteorite parent bodies, and may well provide clues about their synthesis and survival during the formation of our Solar System.

I will present results from our extensive investigation on the abundance and molecular distribution of amino acids, and other biologically relevant molecules extracted from meteorites. We will discuss their potential prebiotic origins and relevance to the emergence of life on Earth.


Your Fantastic Fossil Family Tree

Exhibit Presented by the CofC Anthropology Club

Anthropology Club Website

Wednesday, Feb. 13
5:00-7:00pm, ECTR 107
Event Flyer (.pdf)

Come meet your extinct relatives and learn how scientists use fossil remains to understand human evolution. In this all-ages, interactive lab, you can explore plaster replicas of ancient human ancestors (and off-shoots), observe variation in brain, tooth, and face size across time, and learn about the many tools and features paleoanthropologists and paleontologists use interpret these special fossils.



Journey to the Ocean Deep: Investigating the Deep Sea with the Human Operated Vehicle Alvin

Heather Fullerton

College of Charleston
Fullerton Website

Wednesday, Feb. 13
7:00pm, SSMB Auditorium
Event Flyer (.pdf)

Pressures of life got you down? Can you adapt? Diverse animal communities live at 2.5km deep in the absence of sunlight and are bathed in hot, toxic water. So, how do we explore this type of life in these remote and extreme environments? Deep sea technologies have expanded since 1964, with the construction of the Human Occupied Vehicle Alvin, to investigate the sea floor. Join me as discuss the technologies and environment at the East Pacific Rise hydrothermal vents.



Whales as a poster child for macroevolution: feet to flippers, teeth to baleen, and echolocation as informed by the fossil record of South Carolina

Bobby Boessenecker

College of Charleston; University of California, Berkeley
Boessenecker Website

Thursday, Feb. 14
4:00pm, SSMB Auditorium, CofC
Event flyer (.pdf)

Whales and dolphins are marine mammals and the largest animals ever to evolve. Until the past thirty years, their exact relations to other mammals and how they returned to the sea were largely unknown. This talk will explore what we know of the most ancient whales (archaeocetes) and the contribution of these fossils to our understanding of why, when, where, and how whales began invading freshwater and eventually marine environments. Fossils of archaeocete whales have shed light on changes in feeding, locomotion, and sensory adaptations from the land to sea transition. Fossils of archaeocetes from the southeastern USA, including South Carolina, have provided critical insight into this transition. The early evolution of baleen whales (Mysticeti) and toothed whales (Odontoceti) is best studied here in the Charleston region, preserving one of the only fossils highlighting changes in feeding adaptations, sensory abilities, and body size across the archaeocete-"neocete" transition some 35-25 million years ago. This lecture will therefore focus upon some of the strangest and oldest known baleen whales like Coronodon and Eomysticetus, and many early dolphins like Xenorophus, Inermorostrum, and many unnamed species currently under study.

Documentary Night! Africa Droughts and Floods: The Tipping Points

Q&A afterwards with Dr. Adem Ali, CofC Geology
Presented by Sigma Gamma Epsilon

Thursday, Feb. 14
6:00-7:00pm, SSMB Auditorium
Event flyer (.pdf)

Global climate change significantly affects the people of Africa. Bernice Notenboom leads an expedition from far North of the Sahara to afar south Cape Town to explore climate changes affecting Africa's vital weather systems that provide natural rain to 90% of their subsistent farming. In this film, Notenboom visits Benenikenyi village, discusses climate change with Mali's chief meteorologist, and learns how farmers are adapting their practices to meet the changing climate.


The Evolution of Human Cerebral Cortex

David Van Essen

Washington University, St. Louis
Van Essen Website

Friday, Feb. 15 
7:00pm, SSMB Auditorium
Event flyer (.pdf)

The human brain is the most complex information processing device in the known universe. Its dominant structure is the cerebral cortex, which is largely responsible for what makes us uniquely human – our amazing abilities to think, perceive, speak, and share emotions, and to navigate and shape our environment. Cerebral cortex has expanded dramatically in the human lineage compared to nonhuman primates. Neuroscientists have studied the cerebral cortex for more than a century in humans and in animal models. Progress has accelerated in recent years, thanks to powerful new methods for studying brain structure, function, and connectivity, and also to large-scale endeavors such as the Human Connectome Project. In this talk, Professor Van Essen will provide a guided tour of the human cerebral cortex and its evolution.