How long ago was the ancestor of everyone?

08 June 2015

UC's Distinguished Professor Mike Steel will explore evolution from a mathematician's perspective at UC's free public lecture at 7pm on Wednesday 10 June.

How long ago was the ancestor of everyone?

Distinguished Professor Mike Steel

UC’s Distinguished Professor Mike Steel will explore evolution from a mathematician’s perspective at the University of Canterbury’s (UC) free public lecture at 7pm on Wednesday 10 June.

Professor Steel is Director of UC’s Biomathematics Research Centre in the School of Mathematics and Statistics. In his talk entitled ‘What if...Darwin had persevered with maths?’, Professor Steel will provide an overview of how ideas from maths have become central to the study and visualising of evolution.

Questions Professor Steel will explore include:

  • Why does DNA sometimes tell a different evolutionary story to fossils?
  • Why do some of our genes places us closer to gorilla than to chimp?
  • Does everyone alive today share at least one single ancestor from 3000BC?

The maths connection to evolution is enlightening. In the 155 years since Darwin’s Origin of Species, biologists have developed sophisticated ways to uncover and study the hidden shared ancestry of all life from genetic data. While Darwin was able to formulate his ideas without using mathematics, he later wrote how he regretted not having studied that subject further. Mathematics has since become an essential tool that allows biologists to tease apart evolutionary signal from noise and bias in data, and to build reliable phylogenetic trees and networks. Biologists use these trees widely: for example, to classify new species, trace human migrations, and to help predict next year’s influenza strain.

Professor Steel’s talk is the latest in UC’s ‘What if Wednesdays’ series of twice-monthly free public lectures that contribute to the community by taking a thought leadership role.

The lecture will be held in C2 Lecture Theatre, Central Lecture Block, University of Canterbury, Arts Road, Christchurch at 7:00pm. Register online for this free event at www.canterbury.ac.nz/wiw/

For further information please contact:
Phil Barclay, Communications and Stakeholder Relations Manager on 027 889 5636