Published: 19.02.09

Darwin’s legacy

Peter Rueegg

Charles Darwin is the big topic for the whole of 2009. The great British natural scientist was born on 12.2.1809, and 50 years later in 1859 he published his work “On the Origin of Species”, which shook many people’s philosophy of life and the way they saw themselves. In his book Darwin explained the origin of the great diversity of plants and animals and ultimately of human beings. By so doing he caused serious offence among society and in the church at that time. Nevertheless Darwin’s Theory of Evolution has gained acceptance and forms the foundation of present-day biology.

In addition the term “evolution” is familiar not only to biologists. Evolutionary processes also have an impact in other fields, e.g. in computer science and product development. This dossier summarizes the articles on the subject of Evolution – not only in a biological context – and about the Darwin Year.

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Chemical weapons against uninvited dinner guests: ETH Zurich scientists test whether the pollen of certain flowers contains toxins that give bees an upset stomach and protects the plant from the diligent pollen gatherers. Peter Rüegg, 05.05.09
Constantly “re-rolling the dice”, combining and selecting: “Evolutionary algorithms” mimic natural evolution in silico and lead to innovative solutions for complex problems. Simone Ulmer, 24.04.09
Darwin was a brilliant observer and described everything he could perceive with the naked eye. However, the micro-organisms from the beginning of evolution remained hidden from him. He came unsuspectingly close to them in his essay on reefs. Simone Ulmer, 09.04.09
Research into epigenetics has shown that environmental factors affect characteristics of organisms. These changes are sometimes passed on to the offspring. ETH professor Renato Paro does not believe that this opposes Darwin’s theory of evolution. Maja Schaffner, 31.03.09
Researchers at ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich have, for the first time, compared the proteomes of two different multi cellular organisms. They found surprising correlations between two animals that, at first sight, couldn’t be more different. Peter Rüegg, 04.03.09
150 years ago the British scientist Charles Darwin published his famous book “On the Origin of Species”, which shook many people’s philosophy of life and forms the foundation of biology right up to the present day. Paul Schmid-Hempel, Professor of Experimental Ecology, explains in an interview what has remained preserved of the original Theory of Evolution and which modern branches of research have developed from it. Peter Rüegg, 19.02.09
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