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Steve Chaplin
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, November 22, 2010

Open lecture affords public a view of cooperation, evolution during Dec. 3-5 Biocomplexity event

Nov. 22, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An annual workshop of Indiana University's Biocomplexity Institute, this year titled Biocomplexity XI: "The Evolution of Cooperation: Paradoxes of Collectivity & Individuality," will include a guest public lecture by Richard Michod, a University of Arizona professor who is head of UA's Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department.

Rick Michod

University of Arizona evolutionary biologist Richard Michod will present a public lecture, "Cooperation, conflict, and sex in the evolution of individuality," as part of the IU Biocomplexity Institute's Dec. 3-5 workshop on the evolution of cooperation.

Michod, author of the books Darwinian Dynamics and Eros and Evolution, will present "Cooperation, conflict, and sex in the evolution of individuality," during the only open portion of the Dec. 3-5 conference. The lecture will be given Friday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m. in room 130, Myers Hall, on the IU Bloomington campus.

Michod's work seeks to understand the diversity of life by studying the evolutionary processes that led to the familiar levels in the hierarchy of life.

"We seek to understand how groups of individuals evolve into new kinds of individuals. Such evolutionary transitions in individuality occurred during the transitions from prokaryotic to eukaryotic cells, from unicellular to multicellular organisms, from solitary to social species, and from asexual to sexual reproduction," he said. "The methods used in our work involve mathematical and computer models of population genetics and population dynamics, experiments with micro-organisms, especially the volvocine green algae, and philosophical analysis."

Volvocine algae represent a unique opportunity to study the transition from unicellular to differentiated multicellular organisms, and the associated level of complexity, in part because they diverged relatively recently from unicellular relatives, Michod explained.

Lead organizer for the workshop is Greg Huber, an associate professor and biophysicist in the cell biology, physics and mathematics departments at the University of Connecticut. Co-organizers are biophysicist James A. Glazier, who is director of the Biocomplexity Institute and an IU Bloomington professor of physics, and IU Distinguished Professor of Biology Michael Lynch.

Greg Huber

University of Connecticut biophysicist Greg Huber organized Biocomplexity XI with IU's James Glazier, director of the IU Biocomplexity Institute, and Distinguished Professor of Biology Michael Lynch.

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Glazier said research into the evolution of cooperativity has broad applications and an interdisciplinary approach is needed. However, the questions it presents are both subtle and provocative.

"Cooperation benefits a society, while evolution selects at the level of individuals," he said. "Despite insights into the mathematics of selection in the presence of cooperation, many aspects of the development of cooperation remain mysterious in practice. Is an ecosystem composed of individuals, or is an individual composed of ecosystems?"

Talks will cover subjects ranging from cooperation inside of cells, bacterial biofilms, social insect colonies, human institutions and societies, cancer etiology and progression to the question of how single cells subsumed their fitness in favor of multi-cellular collectives. All presentations other than Michod's public lecture will be held at the University Club in the Indiana Memorial Union. For more information, visit