Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Carnegie Shows Off Evolution

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History launches a 6-month look at the science behind evolution this weekend when it opens ‘Explore Evolution.’ It is a touring show that looks at several studies ranging from the evolution of whales millions of years ago to the co-evolution of a species of ants, fungus, bacteria, and mold. CMNH program specialist Laurie Giarratani says another part of the exhibition looks at the rapid changes seen in the HIV virus. “Usually we think of evolution as something that takes place over a long time… millions of years,” says Giarratani, “but with simpler organisms that have a smaller genome, a single mutation is going to have a larger effect.” While a virus is not a living organism it does have DNA and this study looks at the changes the HIV virus has gone through as it adapts to defend itself against a number of medical drugs. The research could be key in finding a vaccine for the virus that causes AIDS.

The Carnegie adds in an eighth study to the seven that travel as part of the exhibit. The museum’s curator of vertebrate paleontology, Chris Beard adds his own research title, “The micromonkey and anthropoid origins.” It looks at the genus Eosimias, that Beard helped to identify, and his subsequent research on other early anthropoids in China, Myanmar, and Libya. Beard will give a lecture Saturday at noon as part of the opening day events.

Giarratani says, “Our Goal here is to help people understand the science behind evolution… and not commenting on religion at all.” We hope people can come to the museum and can connect the science here to their lives.” Giarratani says it is up to the visitors to engage those ideas in whatever way makes sense to them.

The exhibit runs through July 24th.

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