NATIONAL CHENG KUNG UNIVERSITY, TAINAN, TAIWAN
BANYAN
Volume 7 Issue 5 - January 23, 2009
Commentary
Larry Paris
Darwin Day & the Enduring Legacy of Charles Darwin
Article Digest
Wen-Hsi Lee
Suppression effect of Low-Concentration Bis-(3-sodiumsulfopropyl disulfide) on Copper Electroplating
Yue-Dian Hsu
Constructing the Constitutional Theoretical Foundation of School Autonomy
Shao-Chi Chang
The Effect of Alliance Experience and Intellectual Capital on the Value Creation of International Strategic Alliances
Hsin Chu
Identification and characteristics of a cyanobacterium isolated from a hot spring with dissolved inorganic carbon
Fong-Gong Wu
A new design approach of user-centered design on a personal assistive bathing device for hemiplegia
News Release
News
Chair Professor Jen-Fin Lin Named Fellow of American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)
News
Graduate Student, Miss Jean-Yun (Jean) Chang, Receives Travel Award
News
An Introduction of NCKU’s Research Achievement Information System
Opportunities
Activities
Editorial Group
Darwin Day & the Enduring Legacy of Charles Darwin
Larry Paris

Institute of Molecular Medicine, NCKU

Why are there so many species of animals and plants? Are different species related to each other?  Can a species change?  If so, why?
Charles Darwin, 1840.
Credit: Public domain.
The year 2009 is important in the history of science and in acknowledging a significant intellectual achievement.  Why?  Because this year marks both the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of his 1859 publication, The Origin of Species, one of the most remarkable scientific works ever published.

The Origin of Species presents the theory that organisms evolve over generations through natural selection.  This turned out to be one of those landmark books that revolutionized science.  So who was Charles Darwin, and what exactly did he do? And what is evolution by natural selection?

The Voyage of the Beagle

Charles Darwin was born in 1809 in England.  He went to the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, for medical studies in 1825.  Unable to watch the suffering of patients undergoing surgery without an anesthetic (not used until the mid-1800s), fear of the sight of blood, and with greater interest in the outdoors and natural history, Darwin left Edinburgh in April of 1827, ending his medical studies.   So, under his father’s advice, he went to Cambridge in 1828, and graduated in 1831.  Darwin did not pursue a degree in science, but during the years at the university he spent much time studying organisms in their natural environments and making collections of a wide variety of insects.

Then began the most notable period of his life, as he would later write.  After graduating from Cambridge he served for five years, from 1831 to 1835, as a naturalist aboard the ship called the Beagle. A naturalist is a term for one who studies life and the environment in their natural settings, as opposed to experimental work in a laboratory (Darwin, at that time, did his own experiments on plants).  His responsibility on the Beagle was to make biological and geological observations in various locations around the world, particularly around coastal South America.  He was 22 years old when he began the voyage.

The H.M.S. Beagle in port.
Credit: Public domain
From this trip on the Beagle, Darwin obtained much of his empirical data which led him to refine the concept of natural selection over the following two decades.  Darwin’s observations and analyses of plants and animals in their natural environments, combined with fossil evidence and data from domesticated animals, led Darwin to surmise that it was natural selection acting upon individual variation that led to new forms, that is, new species, over the course of life’s history on earth.

What is natural selection? Natural selection refers to those factors in the environment, both living and non-living (such as temperature and moisture) that act upon the biological capabilities of organisms.  The result of this interaction is that some organisms successfully adapt and pass on their characteristics to future generations, while others do not adapt and their genetic line comes to an end (extinction). 

Descent with Modification

It was clear to naturalists that offspring were not exactly the same as their parents, and that within a single species there were differences among individuals.  Some were taller, faster, of a different color, more aggressive, more cooperative, more tolerant of heat, or of low moisture conditions.  Natural selection operated on these features, with some individuals successfully reproducing, and some not.  Adaptive traits were passed on to the next generation, combining with that generation’s set of inherited variability.  Thus, descent with modification.

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