Tag Archives: history of biology

International Meeting “Evolutionary Theory: A Hierarchical Perspective”

Presentation of:

Eldredge N, Pievani T, Serrelli E, Tëmkin I, eds. (2016). Evolutionary Theory: A Hierarchical Perspective. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

With Telmo Pievani, Ilya Tëmkin, Warren D. Allmon, Gregory Cooper, T. Ryan Gregory, Stefan Linquist, William Miller III, Mihaela Pavlicev, Andrea Parravicini, Francesco Suman, Alejandro Fabregas Tejeda.

Organized by: The Hierarchy Group

Venues: National Academy of Sciences and NOVA Northern Virginia Community College

See event program on Academia.

Evolutionary Genetics and Cultural Traits

The chapter explains why evolutionary genetics – a mathematical body of theory developed since the 1910s – eventually got to deal with culture: the frequency dynamics of genes like “the lactase gene” in populations cannot be correctly modeled without including social transmission. While the body of theory requires specific justifications, for example meticulous legitimations of describing culture in terms of traits, the body of theory is an immensely valuable scientific instrument, not only for its modeling power but also for the amount of work that has been necessary to build, maintain, and expand it. A brief history of evolutionary genetics is told to demonstrate such patrimony, and to emphasize the importance and accumulation of statistical knowledge therein. The probabilistic nature of genotypes, phenogenotypes and population phenomena is also touched upon. Although evolutionary genetics is actually composed by distinct and partially independent traditions, the most important mathematical object of evolutionary genetics is the Mendelian space, and evolutionary genetics is mostly the daring study of trajectories of alleles in a population that explores that space. The ‘body’ is scientific wealth that can be invested in studying every situation that happens to turn out suitable to be modeled as a Mendelian population, or as a modified Mendelian population, or as a population of continuously varying individuals with an underlying Mendelian basis. Mathematical tinkering and justification are two halves of the mutual adjustment between the body of theory and the new domain of culture. Some works in current literature overstate justification, misrepresenting the relationship between body of theory and domain, and hindering interdisciplinary dialogue.

Look for it in the Publications page (with additional links):

Serrelli E (forthcoming). Evolutionary genetics and cultural traits in a ‘body of theory’ perspective. In Panebianco F, Serrelli E, eds. Understanding cultural traits. A multidisciplinary perspective on cultural diversity. Springer, Chapter 11. [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/49987]

Stephen Jay Gould, Pere Alberch and evo-devo

Gould copertinaCaianiello S, ed. Da Gould a evo-devo. Percorsi storici e teorici. Roma: CNR Edizioni.

ISBN 978-88-8080-125-2

You can read the whole book online – OPEN ACCESS! It is the publisher’s policy one year after publication.


Serrelli E (2014). Stephen Jay Gould, Pere Alberch e il modello-orologio dell’eterocronia: incontro e divergenza alle origini di evo-devo. Caianiello S, ed. Da Gould a evo-devo. Percorsi storici e teorici. Roma: CNR Edizioni, pp. 97-128. ISBN 978-88-8080-125-2  [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/60530]

gould clock model of heterochronyStephen Jay Gould’s book Ontogeny and Phylogeny (1977), recently translated into Italian, is unanimously considered as one of the founding texts of evo-devo. Pere Alberch, another pioneer of the field, was early stimulated by reading Gould’s book. In particular, he got into the “clock model”, an image devised by Gould to organize thinking and terminology about heterochrony (i.e., evolutionary change of the timing of developmental processes). Alberch engaged Gould in a formalization of the clock model, which they published in 1979. After that work, however, the two authors diverged. Alberch noticed inconsistencies in the view of development they had adopted, and moved on towards a more dynamic view. Gould didn’t follow this route, and remained largely insensitive to Alberch’s work. Reflection on this debate allows for a clarification of the assumptions of different approaches to ontogenic development. Particular attention is given to the dynamical systems approach, grasped by Alberch in the mid 1980s, and regarded as very coherent and promising in today’s evolutionary developmental biology.

More links in the Publications page.

The Coral of Life

Charles Darwin began to draw “trees of life” in 1837 (Notebook B, sheet 26), 22 years before The Origin of Species, as soon as he got back from his voyage around the world on the Beagle. The “great mass of sparse facts” that he had been gathering and thinking for some years had convinced him that all species could be in relationship with one another, by virtue of ancestors that lived in the past…

Pievani T, Serrelli E (2009). Il corallo della vita. In Charles Darwin: L’evoluzione della vita, monografia de Il Calendario del Popolo, anno 65, n. 741. Milano: Teti Editore pp. 3-4. ISSN 0393-3741 [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/6699]