Welcome to the thoughts of a new Scientopian

Jul 23 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

G'day. My name is David Morrison, and I will be responsible for the posts here at Scientopia's Guest Blogge for the next couple of weeks. I am happy to be here; and I hope that you will find the discussions enjoyable as well as informative.

My professional blog is called The Genealogical World of Phylogenetic Networks, which is a mouthful, but basically it is an ongoing discussion about scientists' attempts to reconstruct the "Tree of Life" while actually believing that evolutionary history is much more complex than a tree (ie. a network). Indeed, the very first published diagrams that explicitly depict evolutionary history (= phylogeny) were networks showing the hybridization history of domestic dogs and strawberries, in 1755 and 1766 respectively. This apparently long history (briefly summarized here) was subverted somewhere along the line, notably by Charles Darwin, who popularized the Tree of Life metaphor; and biologists are only now trying to get back on track again.

Along the way, the GWPN blog also looks at the lighter side of things. For example, it has presented network analyses of, among other popular subjects:

  • voting in the Eurovision Song Contest (2006 and 2012)
  • characteristics of Scotch whiskies
  • the opinions of Bordeaux wine critics (part I and part II)
  • characteristics of Bordeaux wines
  • winners of  the FIFA World Cup

For the cognoscenti, we have also had a selection of evolutionary trees used as tattoos, which appears to be quite popular among younger phylogeneticists:

Personally (see my home page), I am an elderly Australian now living in Sweden (mainly because my wife is Swedish). I have spent my whole adult life either studying or working in universities. I spent my early career as a botanist, mainly in ecology but also in systematics. (Yes, I have named several new species of plants, and I have one species named after me!) Somewhere along the line I started working with some parasitologists on using molecular data (mostly DNA sequences) to study the evolutionary history of parasites, including the apicomplexans (which cause malaria and coccidiosis, among many other nasty diseases) and the nematodes (parasitic roundworms). This work has been aimed at developing control strategies for these organisms. From there I branched into bioinformatics, studying the various computer techniques used to analyze the molecular data, which is what I mostly do these days. I have written one introductory book on this work.

However, I am also interested in the way in which evolutionary biologists communicate with each other, and with the rest of the world. Evolutionary history is a basic concept in biology, and yet it is not a simple one. New students take time to grasp the complexity involved; and the general public sometimes seem not to grasp it at all, unfortunately. Evolutionary biologists need to take responsibility for rectifying this situation; and in the forthcoming posts here at Scientopia I intend to explore some of the issues involving verbal and visual (mis)communication.


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