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Polymerization in hydrothermal conditions: Darwin's prescient idea.

Dave Deamer, Department of Bimolecular Engineering, University of California, Santa Cruz CA

 

In an often quoted note to Joseph Hooker in 1871, Darwin speculated that life may have begun in a "warm little pond." We have tested this idea in simulations of fluctuating hydrothermal fields associated with volcanism. We found that the chemical energy available in such conditions can drive polymerization of ordinary mononucleotides into surprisingly long oligonucleotides resembling ribonucleic acid (RNA). The polymerization occurs in lipid environments so that the RNA-like polymers become encapsulated in membranous compartments to form protocells, the first milestone on the evolutionary path toward primitive cellular life. 


Energy and Matter at the Origin of Life

Nick Lane, Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

 

There is a paradox at the base of life. Membrane bioenergetics - the use of ion gradients across membranes to drive carbon and energy metabolism - are universal, but membranes are not. Radical differences between bacteria and archaea in membrane chemistry and active ion pumping suggest that LUCA, the last universal common ancestor, may have used natural proton gradients in alkaline hydrothermal vents to drive growth. I will outline a possible scenario for the origin of life in this environment, and present some experimental and modelling results which suggest that proton gradients could have driven the transition from geochemistry to biochemistry, and the deep divergence of archaea and bacteria.

Location:

Flett Lecture Theatre, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London - Map

Poster:

Download a copy of the poster here - Poster

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You could say that this month's post is written in the spirit of January detoxes and body cleanses and all that healthy, New Year resolution-y stuff. It is also, I should mention in advance, not a post for the faint-hearted, so if you are of a nervous or squeamish disposition, you should probably look away now.

 

You could say that this month's specimen is the most intimate and personal one I've ever written about. It is, I believe, unique in our collection as being the only specimen donated by a member of staff having been sourced from his own body.

 

I'll let the protagonist - former Museum Science Educator and current Discovery and Learning Officer at ZSL London Zoo, Theo Blossom, take up the tale:

It was May 2012, 7.30 in the morning. My alarm had gone off in my university campus dorm room, where I was studying for my Masters in Conservation Science. I got up out of bed, and I started to walk across my room. Two steps across the floor, I felt something… something between my legs, something dangling... So I put my hand down my underwear, and I felt something coming out of my… well, my bum! At this point I began to feel a little alarmed.

 

I started to pull at it tentatively. Whatever it was kept coming and coming and coming. It was a bit traumatic, but  finally, "it" came out. All nine inches of it! I held it up in front of my face, in disbelief - and then - it gave its last wiggle of life! That was when I began to freak out.

 

What Theo had just bravely removed from his own behind was (it would later be confirmed) a roundworm, Ascaris lumbricoides. He named it Judas and put it in a flatmate's (n.b. 'special thanks to Izzy') Tupperware container.

 

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An example of the human roundworm, Ascaris lumbricoides, (however, not 'Judas'). This species can grow up to ~40 cm (16 inches).

 

A visit to the campus doctor confirmed the aforementioned species type and also allayed some of Theo's fears about this strange creature that had been living in his body.

(The campus doctor) was a very well-spoken old boy who was probably, quite frankly, bored of handing out condoms. So when I slapped down Izzy's Tupperware box in front of him he became quite animated. Thumbing through a rather tatty book of potions he said: "Mebendazole, that will kill them. That is, if you want to kill them? It seems a shame. This little fella has probably been providing you a service - I presume you're fit and healthy with no allergies?"

 

It's all about the idea of "ecosystem services", Theo in turn explained to me. That is, the benefit that human species gain from resources and processes supplied by ecosystems. In this case, exposure to parasites (roundworm) keeps our immune system active and therefore better able to cope with other foreign bodies, from everyday pollen to more harmful bacteria.

I've since worked out that this little dude was inside me for two years. I didn't know. He caused me no problems. Coincidently or not, I have no allergies. The reality is our bodies are riddled with living organisms which are there all the time but do us no harm whatsoever. In fact, they benefit us in many ways.

 

After learning all this, I began to feel a bit bad. This little guy has been part of a marvellous little ecosystem that was boosting my immune system, and I'd just ended the party.

 

But Judas - who is actually female, not male - lives on, in body, and, technically, in spirit, in the Museum's specimen collection. After speaking to a Museum expert in parasitic worms to find out more about Ascaris lumbricoides, Theo was encouraged to donate his find (or should that be harvest?) to live on in perpetuity behind the scenes of the Darwin Centre, among our more than half a million other parasitic worm specimens.

 

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Theo revisiting his roundworm, affectionately known as Judas, in the Museum's Darwin Centre this week.

It's a dream come true for anyone into natural history to have their name recorded in the scientific scriptures of the Natural History Museum, alongside the likes of Charles Darwin. I just didn't think it would be quite like this!

 

My great, great grandchildren, can, if they wish, in years from now, walk into the Museum and request to see Judas in all her glory. My great grandchild will ask my granddaughter: "Mummy, can we go and see great Granddad's worm?" And from beyond the grave, that will be a proud moment for me.

 

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'To see "Ex Homo sapiens (Theo Blossom)" written on a specimen jar at the Natural History Museum is pretty awesome!' Theo said, adding: 'She looked a bit smaller than I remember, though.'

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It's almost a year since I started blogging for the Museum, and as I considered what I should profile for my 12th Specimen of the Month, I inevitably began to reflect on all the amazing specimens I've already written about, those on my list to write about in the future (which, for various reasons, can't be featured today), as well as all the specimens I've yet to even discover exist here.

 

One of the most incredible things about the Museum is just how many specimens we care for. To describe it by coining a phrase from Charles Darwin (although he was talking about the evolutionary Cambrian explosion, but anyway...), the Museum's collection is full of 'endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful'.

 

So today I thought I would celebrate all the specimens in our collection. All 80 million of them!

 

As you can obviously gather, not all 80 million are on public display. In fact, only about 0.04% of our total collection is on show in the public galleries. The rest is housed behind the scenes, in specially-built, and often specially-temperature-controlled, storage facilities.

 

Our 80 million-strong specimen collection is composed of:

 

More than 34 million insects in 140,000 drawers, of which 8.7 million are butterflies and moths.

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Some of the modern and historic storage cupboards containing the drawers that house our insect collections.

 

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The collection was boosted in 2010 with the donation of 45,000 weevils of 4,500 different species from Oldřich Vořisek, a private collector in the Czech Republic. Half were new to the Museum, and it included almost 750 type specimens. Pictures © Libby Livermore.

 

More than 27 million animals, ranging from the smallest fishes and frogs to enormous elephants and blue whale skeletons.

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Before Dippy took pride of place, elephants were a dominant feature of Hintze Hall (or Central Hall as it was back then). In this picture from 1924, three elephants can be seen on the main floor, while a further two elephant heads are mounted above the Darwin statue on the stairs.

 

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Mounted heads used to be much more prominent around the Museum in years gone by, as illustrated by this photograph of the balcony of Hintze Hall from 1932 (left). [Note, also, the terrifying location of the glass display cases at the top of the stairs!]

Today, most of our mounted animal heads are kept in storage (right).

 

More than 7 million fossils, with the oldest dating back more than 3.5 billion years.

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One of my favourite fossils is this petrified tree trunk: the wood of a conifer from the Triassic era (250-200 million years ago) has been replaced with the mineral agate.

 

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Another fossil I'm quite fond of, which also has a mineralogical connection, is this ammonite (Parkinsonia dorsetensis), from the mid-Jurassic era (174-166 million years ago): its chambers have been filled by calcite crystals.

 

More than 6 million plants, algae, ferns, mosses and lichens, 10% of which come from the British Isles.

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Our oldest plant specimen is a mounted American hop hornbeam (Carpinus virginiana), which dates to 1740 and was collected just about a mile from here at the Chelsea Physic Garden.

 

 

Watch herbarium technician Felipe Dominguez-Santana demonstrate how plant specimens are mounted in this video from 2009. It was filmed around the time that all our herbarium specimens were moved into the then-newly-built Darwin Centre.

 

More than 500,000 rocks, gems and minerals, of which 5,000 are meteorites.

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Here I am reflected in some pyrite in the Minerals gallery.

 

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For some reason this malachite specimen causes innumerable giggles. We don't know why.

 

And, more than 1.5 million books and artworks in the Museums Library and Archives.

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As a book junkie, the Museum's Library collection (of which there are six sub-collections: zoology, Earth sciences, botany, entomology, general, and ornithology at Tring) is a thing of beauty in itself, to me. This is a view from the balcony over the Earth sciences collection, which is in the old Geological Museum building (now the Red Zone), built between 1929 and 1933.

 

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Just a small selection of some of the 540+ copies of Origin of Species held by the Museum's library. We have the largest collection of Charles Darwin's works in the world.

 

Finally, not officially counted in the 80+ million, but...

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The web team's collection of dinosaur toys, totalling 15.

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The topic of this blog post is quite possibly the newest specimen in the Museum's collection, as it was just a matter of hours ago that it was catalogued. It's also the first specimen I've played a part in acquiring.

 

The specimen I am talking about is Charles Darwin's groundbreaking book The Origin of Species, which set out the theory for how new species evolve by the process known as natural selection. But the version of the book that is now officially call number 9C o DAR ORI in our library, and which I am writing about today, is a unique one.

 

During Darwin's lifetime (1809-1882) The Origin of Species book went through six editions, with various changes, revisions and additions each time. It was originally titled On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, but was shortened to The Origin of Species by the sixth printing.

 

The Museum's library contains the largest collection of Darwin's works in the world, including 541 copies of The Origin of Species in 43 languages, including Braille.

 

Today, that number has risen to 542 with the addition of a 'variorum' by graphic designer and typographer Simon Phillipson. Simon's Origin of Species - Evolutionary Edition is a book on the evolution of the book on evolution, if you will. He explains:

It highlights all the linguistic changes Charles Darwin introduced to the book since its first publication in 1859, and presents the changes alongside the complete sixth and final edition that was published in 1872. So now you can compare all the alterations Darwin made to each of the editions.

darwinbook-cover-700.jpg

 

This typographic-inspired book has 964 pages, plus a fold-out Tree of Life diagram, and is printed on thin, bible-like paper. On the left hand pages is every punctuation mark, word, sentence and paragraph that has been removed from, edited, or added to Darwin's classic opus over the past century and a half. The right hand pages contain the full text of the sixth edition with words highlighted in metallic bronze ink where they correspond to the text on the left.

You see a lot of tightening up on statements and alterations of words to make an argument more factual or to emphasise its significance, for example. There are also a lot of grammatical and spelling changes too. The thing that struck me the most is that when reading this you really start to get a sense of the man behind the book: where he doubted his ideas, or struggled in phrasing particular sentences due to religious pressure. For example the reference to a god or the creator dips in and out throughout the editions. You can also see how over time he took his own voice out of the book, making the wording more factual, or formal, than personal.

darwinbook-pageexample-700.jpg

 

The book was made possible thanks to a crowd funding campaign last summer that raised more than five times Simon's initial goal. But the idea for the Evolutionary Edition first began around 2009 while Simon was studying for his graphic design degree in London.

I was listening to an adaptation of the Origin of Species as an operatic performance by Hotel Pro Forma and Swedish musical group The Knife, and that started to get me thinking about how I could also reinterpret or present this book in a new way. This led me to start reading into the background and history of Darwin, and I became curious about the different editions that he wrote.

 

It is important to mention that comparing the text of different editions, such as Shakespeare or Darwin, is not a new or original concept. But with my background as a graphic designer and typographer, I wanted to take this variorum concept and create my own interpretation. I wanted to present all the changes Darwin made in a visually engaging and interesting typographic way which people would be able to pick up and explore for themselves.

 

I, along with 779 other backers, agreed that Simon's concept indeed sounded engaging and interesting and pledged my support. I have since been eagerly awaiting the arrival of my copy of Origin of Species - Evolutionary Edition, and carefully following Simon's updates on the long and involved process of making his grand idea a reality. When I told Judith Magee, the Museum's Library and Archives Special Collections Manager, about the book she was intrigued and keen to receive a copy to add to our Darwin Origin of Species collection. Simon says:

It goes without saying that this is an incredible honour and also one of the biggest surprises. I certainly never expected anything like it. I still very much consider myself to be a Darwin novice! The support for this project has been completely overwhelming. In all honesty it is hard to put into words, but it is down to all the great support from all my backers of this project who have all played an important role in getting the book to sit amongst the largest Darwin collection in the world.

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See a first edition of Darwin's book in our Treasures Cadogan Gallery.

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Dr Jim Costa


Executive Director, Highlands Biological Station,  Highlands, NC, USA and

Professor of Biology, Western Carolina  University, Cullowhee, NC, USA

 

Wednesday 30th July 2014 16.30–17.30

 

Flett Events Theatre - Exhibition Road Entrance

 

All welcome!

 

Alfred Russel Wallace was the last of the great Victorian naturalists, and by the end of his long life in 1913 he was also one of the most famous scientists in the world, lauded by leading learned societies, British royalty and US Presidents alike. Against all odds—lacking wealth, formal education, social standing or connections—Wallace became the pre-eminent tropical naturalist of his day. He founded one entirely new discipline—evolutionary biogeography—and, with Darwin, co-founded another: evolutionary biology. Yet today Darwin's name is universally recognised, while Wallace is all but unknown.

 

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In this lecture, Jim traces the independent development of Wallace's and Darwin's evolutionary insights, exploring the fascinating parallels, intersections and departures in their thinking. Drawing on Wallace's 'Species Notebook'  (the most important of Wallace's field notebooks kept during his southeast Asian explorations of the 1850s) he puts Wallace's thinking into a new light in relation to that of his more illustrious colleague. He also examines the ups and downs of Wallace's relationship with Darwin, and critically evaluates the misleading conspiracy theories that Wallace was wronged by Darwin and his circle over credit for the discovery of natural selection. Tracing the arc of Wallace's reputation from meteoric rise in the 19th century to virtual eclipse in the 20th, Costa restores Wallace to his proper place in the limelight with Darwin.

 

About Jim Costa


Jim’s research ranges from insect social behaviour to the history of evolutionary thinking. As a recent fellow-in-residence at the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, Germany, Jim completed two books about  Wallace. On the Organic Law of Change (Harvard, 2013) is an annotated transcription of the most important field notebook kept by Wallace during his explorations in southeast Asia, providing new insights into the development of Wallace's evolutionary thinking in the 1850s. In the companion volume Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species (Harvard, 2014) Jim analyses Wallace's ideas and arguments about evolution in the notebook period in comparison with those of Darwin, and examines the relationship between these two giants of evolutionary biology.

 

The annual Wallace Lecture is organised by the NHM’s Wallace Correspondence Project - http://wallaceletters.info/

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Watch a video recording by the British Humanist Association of a talk about Wallace's life and work and his discovery of evolution by natural selection. I presented this talk at Ancestor's Trail 2013 on the 25 August 2013:

 

 

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As many of you will know, the Museum has been celebrating the life and work of Alfred Russel Wallace this year in a big way. As part of the celebrations, the Museum's magazine evolve has published four interesting articles about Wallace, and thanks to an agreement with the magazine's Senior Editor Helen Sturge, and the authors of the articles in question, they can now be downloaded as PDFs.

 

 

+ Richard Conniff's article Wallace: species seeker extraordinaire from issue 15 (pictured). Download the PDF.

 

+ Caroline Catchpole's article Letters of a naturalist: the Wallace Correspondence Project from issue 16. Download the PDF.

 

+ George Beccaloni's article Wallace immortalised: Museum set to receive Wallace statue 100 years later than planned from issue 17. Download the PDF.

 

+ Jim Costa's article On the Organic Law of Change: Alfred Russel Wallace and the book that should have been from issue 17. Download the PDF.

 

 

Because issue 17 of evolve hasn't even been distributed yet you will get to read the two interesting articles in it before everyone else!

 

Copies of evolve can also be purchased from the Museum's online shop and are recevied for free by members of the Museum.

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October's letter of the month was written by Wallace to his son William from the Quincy Hotel in Boston, America. Written on 29 October 1886, Wallace had just embarked on what was to be a ten month lecture tour around North America.

 

The idea for a trip to lecture in America had actually been born a few years previously when Wallace met James Lowell at Darwin’s funeral - both were pallbearers. Lowell, a few years later in 1885, invited Wallace to be a speaker at the prestigious Lowell Institute's lecture series.

 

In a letter written in January 1886 to Othniel Charles Marsh, with whom Wallace had also discussed the possibility of lecturing abroad, Wallace wrote that,

 

“... circumstances have led me to contemplate a visit to the United States next Autumn on a lecturing tour around the world." 

 

Although Wallace now had a degree of financial security in the form of a civil pension of £200 per annum that he began receiving in 1882, he cites to Marsh that,

 

“Serious losses of late years have rendered it necessary for me to do anything in my power to secure a provision for my family, and it is this consideration alone that would make me encounter the risks and fatigue of such a journey at my age and with my somewhat precarious health.”

 

And so it was that he left Gravesend on Saturday 9 October 1886 on a steamship, docking in New York, two weeks later on Saturday 23 October.

 

Wallace’s letter to William came when he had been in America six days and he writes of the voyage over, and of his activities since his arrival. He writes of seeing the “great” Statue of Liberty - which had actually been dedicated the day before Wallace wrote his letter on 28 October.

 

He stayed in New York for four days before travelling to Boston, from where he wrote to William. He records in the letter his thoughts on Central Park, it being,

 

“something like Epping Forest & something like Wales -- small hills and rocks everywhere with trees & flowers, and lakes in the hollows.”

 

On the journey to Boston Wallace observes all around him, commenting on the landscape, “rocky but not very hilly” and likening the wooden houses in the towns and villages he passed to “toy houses”.

 

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WCP423: Wallace's letter to William from Boston

 

Wallace gave his first lecture two days after this letter was written on Monday 1 November to a sold-out audience; the lecture was entitled “The Darwinian Theory”. In total he gave 41 lectures, his last being in August 1887.

 

He never did make it around the world - his original plan which he outlined in his letter to Marsh was to travel to New Zealand and Australia from America and then onto the Cape of Good Hope before heading home to the UK. He did, however, make it to California to see his brother John, who he hadn’t seen in more than forty years.

 

At the time of the lecture series, Wallace was the greatest living naturalist - Darwin having died in 1882 and he was able to use the series to talk on a variety of subjects, including Darwinism. His most popular lecture was the first he ever delivered “The Darwinian Theory”. Although the lectures were not as forthcoming as he had initially anticipated, he still managed to talk on a variety of topics, including an apparently extremely successful lecture on Spiritualism entitled “If a Man Die, Shall he Live Again?” given in San Francisco in June 1887.

 

The trip, no doubt also helped him organise his thoughts on Darwinism as two years after the end of his trip, in 1889, he published Darwinism, his defence of natural selection.

 

Although, not a very well-known chapter in Wallace’s life, the lecturing tour around America is nonetheless interesting and can be explored through the letters in Wallace Letters Online. An excellent new book, "Alfred Russel Wallace's 1886-1887 Travel Diary" by Charles Smith, has recently been published this year, giving a very detailed account of the tour.

 

We're still tweeting about Wallace in this anniversary year and I have two more letters to share with you before concluding my letter of the month series.

 

-Caroline-

Wallace Correspondence Project.

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A wonderful and unique map, showing the routes of Wallace and Darwin's journeys and explaining how both men came to discover evolution by natural selection, has just been published by Operation Wallacea in association with the Wallace Memorial Fund. An image of the map is shown below and a larger version is attached as a PDF file (see the link at the bottom of this post).

 

The map is being distributed free of charge as a high quality A2 size (42 x 59.4 cm; 16.54 x 23.39 inches) poster to all secondary schools in the UK as well as a further 10,000 schools worldwide - a GREAT way of increasing awareness of Wallace.

 

An Indonesian language version of the poster will probably also be produced for distribution to schools in Indonesia. If you would like a physical copy of the English version of the poster at cost price then please email rachael.forster@opwall.com. The price is £1 plus postage and packing.

 

I will also have a limited number of copies to give away at Science Uncovered on Friday 27 September between 17.30 and 18.30. Please come and find me at the Evolution Station in the Museum's Central Hall. Come early to avoid disappointment!

 

 

Wallace & Darwin - Voyages to Evolution Map.jpg

The map comparing Darwin's and Wallace's travels, which led to them independently formulating their theory of evolution by natural selection.

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Two frequently asked questions are 1) how famous was Wallace, and 2) was he really forgotten after his death as some people (like myself) have often said? Responses to these have been based mainly on intuition - but now, thanks to Google's Ngram Viewer - it is possible to answer them in a more quantitative way. Ngram allows users to study the frequency of certain terms (e.g. people's names) in about 5 million books over time. Several terms can be examined together on one graph, so one can compare their relative frequencies.

 

Below are three Ngram plots which give a pretty good idea of how famous Wallace was over time relative to, firstly, 5 scientists who were his friends or colleagues and, secondly, to a selection of other very well known biologists, both living and dead. I realise that the frequency that someone's name is cited in books over time is not a direct measure of their fame, but I would argue that it is probably a pretty good surrogate. For the sake of argument I will use the term "famous" to mean "mentioned in more books than someone else".

 

The graph below shows a few interesting things: firstly that geologist Charles Lyell was far more famous than Charles Darwin until the early 1880's. Darwin then became and remained by far the most famous of the people shown. It is interesting that Lyell was more famous than Darwin during Darwin's lifetime (Darwin died in 1882), which is not what I would have expected.

 

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An Ngram comparing mentions of Wallace, Darwin, Hooker, Huxley, Lyell and Owen.
(Click all Ngrams to view full-sized versions)

 

Removing Darwin from the graph and looking at just the period from 1990 to 2008 we see that, by 2008, Wallace and botanist Joseph Hooker are on a par and that they are more cited than Huxley and Owen, but that Charles Lyell is a bit more famous than either of them.

 

WallacesFame3.JPG

 

Comparing Wallace with some other famous biologists, living and dead, we see that he was more famous towards the end of his life (he died in 1913) than anyone else at any time period, except perhaps for Richard Dawkins. As of 2008 he was nearly as frequently cited as Gregor Mendel, and only Dawkins was (considerably!) more cited than either. Interestingly David Attenborough and Stephen J. Gould are the least cited, apart from Lamarck.

 

WallacesFame4.JPG

 

These graphs show some things I expected (e.g. that Darwin was always a lot more famous than Wallace and that Wallace's fame decreased soon after his death and is only now increasing again), as well as some that I didn't (e.g. how famous Wallace was in his lifetime relative to what I thought were even more famous people like David Attenborough). It is interesting that citations of Wallace's name start to increase again in the 1970s, and I think that the reason is that it was then that Wallace first started to be seriously studied by scholars, such as Lewis McKinney, Barbara Beddall and Wilma George.

 

I'm sure one could argue that there are problems with this method as a way of measuring fame, but it is the best technique I can think of.

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I have sometimes heard it said that Alfred Russel Wallace coined the term "Darwinism". This is incorrect, although he did use the term (perhaps unfortunately!) as the title of an excellent book about evolution which he published in 1889. The term "Darwinism" (as relating to Charles Darwin's theories rather than to his grandfather Erasmus' ideas) was actually first used by "Darwin's Bulldog" Thomas Henry Huxley in a review he wrote of Darwin's "Origin of Species" in 1860.

 

Curiously, the related term "neo-Darwinism", which refers to the 'modern' view of Darwinism minus the inheritance of acquired characters (i.e. Darwinism without Lamarckism), was coined by Samuel Butler in 1880 with reference to Alfred Russel Wallace's views about evolution. Wallace rejected Lamarckism throughout his long life, correctly insisting that natural selection is the primary mechanism of evolutionary change and that traits acquired by organisms during their lifetime (e.g. a blacksmith's well developed arm muscles) are not inherited by their offspring.

 

Wallace's first published rejection of Lamarckism was in his 'Ternate' essay of 1858 - which formed part of the famous paper in which he and Darwin proposed the theory of natural selection for the first time. Wallace wrote:

 

"The hypothesis of Lamarck — that progressive changes in species have been produced by the attempts of animals to increase the development of their own organs, and thus modify their structure and habits — has been repeatedly and easily refuted by all writers on the subject of varieties and species, and it seems to have been considered that when this was done the whole question has been finally settled; but the view here developed renders such an hypothesis quite unnecessary, by showing that similar results must be produced by the action of principles constantly at work in nature...Neither did the giraffe acquire its long neck by desiring to reach the foliage of the more lofty shrubs, and constantly stretching its neck for the purpose, but because any varieties which occurred among its antitypes [ancestors] with a longer neck than usual at once secured a fresh range of pasture over the same ground as their shorter-necked companions, and on the first scarcity of food were thereby enabled to outlive them."

 

Perhaps surprisingly, Darwin always believed that Lamarckism (what he called "use and disuse" inheritance) played a role in evolution alongside natural selection and in 1868 he even devised a now discredited theory, called Pangenesis, to explain how it might work. I find it ironic that not only was the term "neo-Darwinism" proposed with reference to Wallace's evolutionary views, but that Wallace was actually the first ever neo-Darwinian! He was even more "Darwinian" than Darwin himself and can be regarded as the first 'modern' evolutionary biologist. The term "neo-Darwinism" should really be replaced by the term "Wallacism" instead!

 

Note: The term "neo-Darwinism" is usually said to have been coined by George Romanes in 1888 (often erroneously stated to be 1895 or 1896), but it in fact dates back to Samuel Butler's book "Unconscious Memory" published in 1880. Butler used it in the sense described above and cited the above passage from Wallace's 1858 essay as an example of this view (which incidentally Butler disagreed with)!

 

References

 

[Huxley, T.H.] 1860. Darwin On the origin of Species. Westminster Review, 17 (n.s.): 541-70.

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When Alfred Russel Wallace wrote to Charles Darwin from a remote island in Indonesia in 1858, he could not possibly have imagined the consequences. Darwin forwarded the letter and its enclosed essay to Sir Charles Lyell with a despairing note: “So all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed.” Wallace had independently solved the problem of the origin of species, and this book relates what happened next.

 

“The Letter from Ternate” has just been published by Tim Preston of The TimPress. It focusses on the curious and dramatic events surrounding the publication of one of the most important articles in the history of science - Darwin and Wallace's groundbreaking 1858 paper which first proposed the theory of evolution by natural selection. It features new and highly accurate transcriptions of letters to and from Wallace, Darwin, Hooker and Lyell, plus the text of the famous 'joint paper', and Wallace’s Acceptance Speech given after receiving the gold Darwin-Wallace Medal of the Linnean Society of London in 1908.

 

The book is special because it is hand printed, hand bound and limited to only 100 copies. Many of the copies were pre-ordered so this is probably your last chance to buy what is a unique memento of the 2013 Wallace centenary. You won't find it in any shop or on Amazon!

 

Details of the book are as follows:

 

12.5 x 18.75cm, 96pp, printed in Caslon by hand on a Crown Folio Albion press, on Somerset Book mould-made paper from St Cuthbert's Mill, with an introduction by Dr George Beccaloni, tipped-in wood engravings, map, pictures etc. 100 copies only have been printed, of which 95 are quarter bound in leather with decorated paper covers. The cost is £80 for the quarter leather bound version and it can be ordered from Tim Preston - email timpress@me.com

 

More information about it can be found in an earlier post.

 

A sample of the book and its contents can be seen below:

Book front.jpg

Title Page.jpg

Intro.jpg

Mias.jpg

Offprint.jpg

medal.jpg

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This month’s selected letter in my 'Letter of the Month' series was written by Wallace to his mother, Mary, from Java on 20 July 1861, just as his Malay Archipelago adventure was coming to an end. The opening sentence reveals his plans:

 

“I am as you will see now commencing my retreat westwards I have left the wild and savage Moluccas & New Guinea for Java the garden of the East & probably without any exception the finest island in the world.”

 

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WCP375: Wallace's letter home to his mother

 

Although coming at the end of his journey, this letter affords a great insight into the life of a travelling naturalist. He rejoices in the fact that travelling in Java and then onwards to Singapore will be a much more pleasant affair than where he has been travelling as good infrastructure made his job much easier.

 

“Good roads regular posting stages & regular inns & lodging houses all over the interior” make for a happy naturalist.

 

Wallace goes on to write he...

 

“...shall no more be obliged to carry about with me that miscellaneous lot of household furniture, -- bed, blankets, pots kettles and frying pan, -- plates, dishes & wash basin, coffee pots & coffee, tea sugar & butter, -- salt, pickles, rice, bread and wine -- pepper & curry powder, & half a hundred more odds & ends the constant looking after [of] which, packing and repacking, calculating & contriving, -- have been the standing plague of my life for the last 7 years. You will better understand this when I tell you that I have made in that time about 80 movements averaging one a month, at every one of which all of these articles have had to be rearranged & repacked by myself according to the length of the trip, besides a constant personal supervision to prevent waste or destruction of stores in places where it is impossible to supply them.”

 

Simply reading the list of everything he was required to take with him on his travels makes you appreciate what he achieved on those islands all the more but coupled with the fact he had to carry all this every time he moved on (about once a month) and also carry all specimens he collected with him, makes his feat extraordinary. He did have helpers at times which would have proved enormously useful but I really think the sheer scale of his endeavour comes to light in his letter home.

 

Just a few months earlier in March 1861 Wallace had written to his brother-in-law Thomas Sims about his travels and how the lure of home was growing ever bigger:

 

“I assure you I now feel at times very great longings for the peace & quiet of home, -- very much weariness of this troublesome wearisome wandering life. I have lost some of that elasticity & freshness which made the overcoming of difficulties a pleasure, & the country & people are now too familiar to me to retain any of the charms of novelty, which gild over so much that is really monotonous & disagreeable….. I think I may promise if no accidents happen to come back to dear & beautiful England in the summer of next year.”

 

And that he did, returning home to England by summer 1862, travel weary but eager to begin the next chapter in his life.

 

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The Malay Archipelago - Wallace travelled the length and breadth of this Archipelago over eight years.

 

One other anecdote caught my eye in the letter home to Thomas. He was responding to a letter Thomas had written which evidently mentioned Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which you might infer from Wallace’s reply, he had been none too positive about:

 

“Now for Mr Darwin’s book. You quite misunderstand both Mr D’s statement in the preface & his sentiments. I have of course been in correspondence with him since I first sent him my little essay.* His conduct has been most liberal & disnterested. I think any one who reads the Linn[ean] Soc[iety] papers & his book will see it. I do back him up in his whole round of conclusions & look upon him as the Newton of Natural History”

 

*Yet, another outstanding example of Wallace’s modesty! The "little essay" he refers to here is his famous 1858 essay "On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection".

 

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Darwin - the Newton of Natural History? Wallace certainly thought so!

 

Wallace actively wrote home to his mother and sister during his travels and we have seven surviving letters written to his mother during the eight years travelling the archipelago and 11 to his sister and brother-in-law, Fanny and Thomas. All of them can be read on Wallace Letters Online.

 

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Wallace, his mother Mary and sister Fanny

© Wallace Memorial Fund & G. W. Beccaloni

 

 

 

You can follow in Wallace’s footsteps and explore his Amazon and Malay Archipelago expeditions in the museum’s Wallace Discovery Trail which was launched at the beginning of July and runs until November. You can find out more information about the Trail and download a map here.

 

Check back next month, when I'll delve once again into the correspondence and write about another letter that has caught my eye.

 

Caroline

-Wallace Correspondence Project-

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Friday 7 June saw Wallace enthusiasts descend on the University of Bournemouth for a one day conference on Wallace, fittingly held in the Alfred Russel Wallace Lecture Theatre, organised by the Linnean Society and The Society for the History of Natural History.

 

Entitled "Unremitting passion for the beauty and mystery of the natural world" the day included 6 talks about different aspects of Wallace’s life and work, a theatre performance by Theatr na n’Og called "You should ask Wallace" and an evening reception at Bournemouth Society for Natural Sciences.

 

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The morning was kicked off by Andrew Sortwell and David Orr Kerr who gave a fascinating talk of following, quite literally, in Wallace’s footsteps with two expeditions to the Amazon, one in 1978 and one in 2007. They shared with us amazing photos of some of locations Wallace would have visited during his 1848-52 expedition there and shared with us photos of native boats, much like Wallace would have travelled in. In 1978 the Wallace Expedition to Amazonia spent three months in remote regions of the Amazon studying the flora and fauna and in 2007, the second expedition involved travelling to the Rio Negro and spending some time in an Indian Reserve. They also visited São Joaquim, now deserted but the village where Wallace nearly lost his life to illness during his expedition. Their talk was fascinating and it was great to see photos of specimens Wallace would have collected and also to see some of David’s beautiful watercolours from the trip.

 

Janet Ashdown, conservator at the Linnean Society was the next speaker and spoke about the project she worked on to conserve Wallace’s 10 notebooks from the Amazon and Malay Archipelago. The Society acquired the notebooks in 1936 after Wallace’s son William offered them via Edward Bagnall Poulton. In 2011 funding was awarded by the Mellon Foundation to digitise the notebooks, but they were in a poor state of repair and needed to be conserved first. Each notebook was in a varying state of disrepair with his Amazon notebook needing the least intervention. There were four notebooks that were really degraded with Janet commenting they had been strangely constructed with straw-board covers. There were also old repairs that had been undertaken and unfortunately old covers had to be permanently removed because of degradation, however they have been kept and the new covers have been modelled closely on the originals. This was a really insightful talk and I enjoyed learning about the method and the time it took to restore these notebooks to their former glory. These notebooks have also just been digitised and are free to view on the Linnean Society’s website.

 

The final talk before lunch was given by Professor Jim Costa on insights and observations into Wallace’s Species notebooks. Professor Costa’s research into these notebooks will be published in October this year in his new book entitled On the Organic Law of Change. The species notebook (held by the Linnean Society, mc. 180) covers the period 1855-1859 whilst he was in the Malay Archipelago, a period of "remarkable creativity" for Wallace as Jim put it which saw the publication of the 1855 Sarawak Law and the 1858 Ternate Essay that saw him catapulted to fame alongside Charles Darwin. Jim also highlights Wallace’s critique of Sir Charles Lyell in his notebook, showing Lyell to be an inspiration to Wallace during this time. Jim has studied, transcribed and annotated the notebook for his new book, which is bound to give new and interesting insights into Wallace and his time spent in the Malay Archipelago.

 

After lunch, I was lucky enough to have been asked to speak about the Wallace Correspondence Project and it was great to be able to share with so many people details about the project and to show people just what an amazing resource Wallace Letters Online is.

 

Also speaking in the afternoon was Annette Lord, a volunteer at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History who spoke about Oxford Wallace’s collection, which consists of over 300 paper items in the Wallace archive, mostly letters and postcards dating from 1860 to 1913 and tens of thousands of specimens collected by Wallace and numerous type specimens, including Wallace’s famous giant bee, Megachile pluto. It was really interesting to hear Annette talk about Oxford’s collections on Wallace and she recounted many great stories told in the letters, mostly to Edwards Bagnall Poulton and Raphael Meldola, all of which are available to view on Wallace Letters Online.

 

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Some lovely specimens from the Oxford Wallace Collection

 

The final talk of the day was given by Dr Charles Smith and focused on Wallace and Natural Selection. Charles explored Wallace’s 1858 Ternate paper - the one which he sent to Darwin and was subsequently read with Darwin’s work on 1 July 1858 at the Linnean Society - and asked how much we really knew about Wallace’s own evolution of thought and explored Wallace being influenced by the works of Alexander von Humboldt. A thoroughly interesting talk and a great end to the presentations.

 

We were then treated to an excellent performance by Theatr na n’Og with a play called "You should ask Wallace". The play tells Wallace’s story, with one actor playing Wallace who recounts his childhood, early surveying career and expeditions to the Amazon and Malay Archipelago. They perform the play in schools around Wales and this year are busy with performances to a wide range of audiences. It was excellent and the actor who played Wallace bore more than a passing resemblance to the young naturalist! It’s a great way to engage a younger audience in Wallace’s extraordinary life and to inspire them also and it was really interesting seeing the play as it helps you to better imagine the challenging feats Wallace undertook.

 

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A Q&A session with Theatr na n'Og after their great performance

 

To round off the day there was a drinks reception at Bournemouth Society for Natural Sciences, which gave the delegates a chance to chat to one another about the days interesting talks. It was lovely talking to people so enthusiastic about Wallace, in such interesting surroundings, with the Society’s headquarters full of interesting specimens.

 

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The lovely surroundings of the Bournemouth Society for Natural Sciences

 

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Wallace and Darwin both honoured at the Society's headquarters

 

I’d like to say a big thanks to the Linnean Society for organising such an interesting day; another great success for Wallace100!

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7.30 am and the beginning of another beautiful day. While most of the scientists were preparing for a collection trip to the nearby island of Bryher, the molluscs curators were preparing to talk live via satellite link with visitors attending one of our daily Nature Live events in the Museum's Attenborough Studio.

 

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Meet the scientists: Jon Ablett (left) feeling the heat and covered in sun screen, me - Ana Rita (middle) - shivering in the mild climate of the Isles of Scilly, and Andreia Salvador (right) feeling confident before her first ever Nature Live.

 

In the Attenborough Studio, Miranda Lowe, Invertebrates Collections Leader and Senior Curator of Crustaceans, showed some gems from the Museum's collection: huge barnacles studied by Darwin himself, pretty shells from the Isles of Scilly collected more than one hundred years ago, and a cute hermit crab (that steals the shells of dead molluscs to live in). And, live from Scilly, we showed some of the highlights’ of what curators have been finding:

 

P1020629nl (Custom).JPGAmazing coloured marine snails, periwinkles, which paint the white sand with red, black, green, yellow

 

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Blue rayed limpets collect from the inside of very big kelp

 

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Dino-slug, a species that has been around since the time of T. rex, and still displays a small vestigial shell, that most species of slugs have lost

 

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Left: The garlic snail, which smells of garlic when disturbed. Right: The dinner table in the evening.

 

We also talked about the joy of the evenings in our field work headquarters, with scientists sorting out their catches of the day and preserving the specimens for the collections. Every evening Jon Ablett needs to overcome the challenge of trying to make his snails and slugs crawl across a special paper designed to preserve DNA from their mucous. Jon also deep freezes part of his land molluscs in a container at -200 degC, which is not good fun on very cold evenings ... but the vapours coming out of the container look really cool!

 

The visitors at the Attenborough Studio asked lots of interesting questions. From big, to slow and tasty slugs and snails and tips about what to look for in rock pools, to how to become a scientist and, finally, why and how collections at the Museum are used by researchers from all over the world - we hope that everyone has had a slugtastic and a shell of a good time!

 

P1170550 (Custom).JPGA moment's relaxation turns into an opportunity to showcase the size of a kelp

 

Ana-Rita