Time Synopsis

Time Synopsis

The View from Darwin's Islands and Benzer's Bottles

Jonathan Weiner

Weiner's talk focused on the integration of literature and of science. He finds some commonality in the nature of both: writing is not an innate human skill but must be practiced, and science describes a world that is not inherently obvious and which we did not make.

Working his way through his own writings on "Time, Love and Memory," and his fascination with evolutionary processes, Weiner explored his observations of the work of Peter and Rosemary Grant in the Galapagos Islands. Overcoming such difficulties as the Grant's reluctance to speak with him about their work, Weiner managed to make a one-hour landing on Daphne Major, and observe first hand the researchers studying Darwinian Evolution using Darwin's finches in Darwin's islands. Able to observe the reaction of finch populations to the changing physical environment of the Galapagos, the Grants observed Darwinian evolution "in action," tracing changes in the finch populations of Daphne Major through many years. Their research made clear that the differences between "fitness" and "failure" may appear mathematically miniscule. After a drought in which primary food sources became scarce, a change in even a few milimeters in the size of a finches beak - allowing the consumption of a new food resource - could mean the difference between life and death, reproduction or the end of a genetic line.

Weiner also looked to the work of Seymour Benzer to outline the action of evolution over the short term. Benzer's work with fruit flies demonstrated the existence of genes that calibrate cellular time, genes that determine courtship behaviors and memory. Such work may offer insight into the evolution of humans and into the potential for changing human behavior over the short term.

For a description of Benzer's experiment from "Time, Love and Memory," as well as a movie showing a replication of the experiment, follow this link to the University of Minnesota.