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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Last modified: Thursday, February 7, 2013

Indiana University experts available to discuss Darwin's life, work

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Feb. 7, 2013

EDITORS: Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was a British naturalist whose studies led him to formulate a theory of evolution by natural selection. The world will celebrate his 204th birthday Feb. 12, and the 154th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work, "On the Origin of Species," later this year. Indiana University has several experts who are available to discuss the life and work of the famed evolutionary theorist.

Darwin's work didn't occur in vacuum
"Darwin's 'Origin of Species' was published in 1859 and changed the course of science as we know it. But it is easy to forget that Darwin's work did not occur in a vacuum," said Christoph Irmscher, professor in the Department of English at Indiana University Bloomington's College of Arts and Sciences. "His relationship with the American botanist Asa Gray was crucial in helping him formulate his theory of natural selection, as was the opposition of the man considered the foremost naturalist of his time, Louis Agassiz (1807-1803).

"Darwin's penchant for literature has been known for some time, but he has perhaps been less recognized for his sentence-level edits of his own prose. Language, to Darwin, was not just a way of dressing up scientific truths; it was part and parcel of the 'long argument' of 'Origin of Species.'"

Irmscher's new book, "Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science," was recently reviewed by The New York Times. To reach him for interviews, call 443-622-3277 or email; or contact Bethany Nolan with IU Communications at 812-855-6494 or

Darwin's impact celebrated
"As a professor who teaches courses involving human origins, I'm familiar with Darwin's work and its importance to modern science," said Robert Mucci, associate professor of anthropology at Indiana University Northwest. "About 15 years ago, at the request of a student, Indiana University Northwest began celebrating Darwin's birthday. The annual event now draws about 100 people from both on and off campus, and includes lectures and even a birthday cake.

"We're not alone -- Darwin Day is celebrated worldwide by hundreds of schools, museums and churches, and often coincides with activities sponsored by religious groups called Evolution Weekend. The purpose of the event is to call attention to Darwin, who was considered the most important biologist of his time and probably of all time.

"He is often neglected today, especially in the Midwest and South, because of some religious objections to the teaching of evolution. But he changed the direction of the sciences, especially biology, and deserves more respect. And most importantly, he changed the direction of all human knowledge, including social science, humanities, philosophy and even religion. He was a religious man who hesitated for decades to publish anything about evolution until it became obvious that others were already thinking along the same lines."

Mucci hosts IU Northwest's annual Darwin Day celebration. To reach him for interviews, contact Emily Banas with IU Northwest Communications at 219-980-6536 or

Darwin's theory 'overarching biological concept'
"Darwin's theory states that the individuals of every population compete for limited resources and that those variations enabling a higher rate of reproduction and survival will be transmitted from one generation to the next," said David Stocum, professor and director of the Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. "Over long periods of time and geographical isolation, these variations will accumulate to produce an entirely new species of organism. Traced back far enough, all the species on the planet would be derived from some common ancestral life form. Darwin's insights have been greatly extended and verified by modern genetic and molecular biological studies. The theory of evolution is the overarching biological concept that binds together comparative anatomy, molecular genetics, biochemistry, and reproduction and development."

Stocum's current research is on the cellular and molecular processes that regulate the regeneration of amphibian limbs. To reach Stocum for interviews, call 317-274-0627; or contact Diane Brown with IUPUI Communications at 317-274-2195 or

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