Darwin’s Day

By: Kimberly Frey

At 5 p.m., Feb. 12, in the CETES conference room the Biological Honors Society, Beta Beta Beta (Tri-Beta), threw the nineteenth annual Darwin Day celebration by hosting guest speaker Dr. Charles “Matt” Watson.

Watson is an Associate Professor of Biology at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas.

He obtained his bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Biology from Stephen F. Austin University and his master’s degree and Ph.D. in Biology and Quantitative Biology from The University of Texas at Arlington.

Darwin Day is celebrated every year on Charles Darwin’s birthday, Feb. 12, to honor the man who contributed concepts forming the foundation of modern Biology – the Theory of Natural Selection.

Faculty advisor for Tri-Beta and Biology Professor, Dr. Mike Husak opened the evening with a little background on the Darwin Day celebration and introduced the guest speaker.

“What we try to do every year,” Husak said, “is have a good speaker come in who can talk about something that leads back to either Darwin’s work, Evolutionary Biology, or something tied back to Darwin’s influence on science today.”

The title of Watson’s speech was “Science is a Team Sport: Darwin’s Indelible Stamp on Collaborative Research in my Laboratory.”

He began his talk by sharing some thoughts on what he learned from Darwin that isn’t taught in a biology classroom, the first being collaboration.

“Darwin’s the name,” Watson said, “but there’s so many people that he had to correspond with and so many people that influenced his life, that we wouldn’t have Natural Selection if there wasn’t a Henslow, or if there wasn’t a Hooker or a Lyell.”

The other lessons Watson discussed were: Dream Big and Ignore Barriers, Constantly Observe Things, Overwhelm Your Critics and Work on Things That Interest You.

Watson also discussed the importance of mentorship as Darwin didn’t just jump into natural science; he tried medicine and ministry before coming to the sciences with the help of mentors.

Watson went on to speak about two studies he and his many collaborators are currently working on in his Evolutionary Ecology lab.

One study is on the predator-prey interaction of lizards who change color as they mature with the birds who feed on them.

Students in Watson’s lab asked what the benefit of this color change are and why it is selected. This study is almost complete, and the results will be published soon.

The other study Watson and his team are working on involves reproductive mode evolution. They set out to find what conditions put enough pressure on an organism for it to switch from laying eggs—the initial mode of reproduction—to viviparity, or live birth.

Their ongoing study is also looking to lizards to solve the riddle as, depending on the species or even within the same species, both modes of reproduction are used by them.

At the conclusion of the event, coffee and cake were served to formally celebrate Charles Darwin’s birthday.

Cameron Tri-Beta President, Anna Paraskevopoulos provided the birthday cake which was decorated with a map of the globe and the route of the HMS Beagle’s famous voyage highlighted in red frosting.

Darwin traveled as a young man aboard the HMS Beagle on its second voyage.

It was during this voyage that he began forming his radical new ideas which culminated in a little book called “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life).”

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