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Fellowship will help answer huge question

Friday 28 October 2022 3:28pm

Why do we look the way we do? Why does one cat, one dog, one person, fish, insect, or even tree look different to another?

Professor Hamish Spencer image
Professor Hamish Spencer

这是个大问题, but one Distinguished Professor Hamish Spencer, of the 凤凰体育买球’s Department of Zoology hopes to find out with the aid of a Royal Society of 凤凰体育买球 James Cook 研究 Fellowship.

《凤凰体育买球》, 今天宣布, is awarded to researchers at the height of their careers, allowing them to undertake study or research in their field of endeavour for two years, recognising their sustained research excellence. The funding package annually is $100,000 plus GST and $10,000 plus GST in relevant expenses.

Professor Spencer was one of three to receive the award nationally.

An evolutionary biologist, Professor Spencer uses mathematical modelling and molecular genetics to understand the processes driving the evolution of the world’s broad biodiversity. With this Fellowship, he is aiming to resolve the “paradox of variation”.

“If you look at any population of living organisms, you will see differences. People on the street look different from each other; cats do too. Even creatures we are less familiar with – snails, 鸟, insects – show variation, as, 当然, 做植物. To some degree, these differences reflect genetic differences among individuals. This heritable variation is at the heart of evolution, as Darwin pointed out,” he says.

“Natural selection accentuates these differences to bring about evolutionary change; without any genetic differences, evolution doesn’t happen. Genetic differences are also critical to artificial selection: different dog breeds, 例如, have come about because of the genetic differences underlying the various traits that dog breeders favoured.

“然而, we do not know why these populations have all this variation - although it is originally generated by mutation. We do not know if it is preserved by natural selection or whether it is neutral, irrelevant to current selection pressures.”

That distinction matters, he says.

“If the variation is preserved by selection, it is likely that more variable populations are healthier, a conclusion that concerns many science users, from animal breeders to 保护 managers of threatened species. 很明显, answering this question is important and, 然而,, it has been an unanswered central question in evolutionary genetics for over fifty years.”

Using new mathematical models in conjunction with computer simulations, he will enhance understanding of how evolutionary processes interact with each other and how this shapes genetic variation.

“This research will improve what are currently overly simplistic genetic models and explain the levels of genetic variation seen in nature. A resolution of the ‘paradox of variation’ will have implications for fundamental evolutionary biology to numerous applications in agriculture, 保护, 医学及其他领域,” Professor Spencer says.

Receiving the Fellowship is an honour, he says.

“I’m extremely grateful to the Royal Society Te美联社ā让依 为了这次机会. I would also like to thank the Department of Zoology at the 凤凰体育买球 for providing – over many years – such a fertile environment for research.”

For more information, please contact:

Distinguished Professor Hamish Spencer
Department of Zoology | Te Tari o Mātai Kararehe
凤凰体育买球 | Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo
电子邮件 哈米什.spencer@hijhon.com

Lea琼斯
Media Engagement Adviser
外部参与| Te Ringa Toro
凤凰体育买球 | Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo
电话 +64 21 279 4969
电子邮件 lea.jones@hijhon.com