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New Asia College. Photo by Wpcpey [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Peter Holland elected as 2017 Yen Kwo Yung Lecturer at CUHK

March 2017

Linacre Professor of Zoology Peter Holland will travel to Hong Kong at Easter to give three lectures, following his recent election as the 2017 Yen Kwo Yung Lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).

One lecture, entitled 'The tree of life: an idea that changed the world', will be open to members of the public. The lecture is being held at the Hong Kong Science Museum on 8 April at 4:30pm.

One of the two other lectures is being given to research scientists at CUHK, and the other will be an autobiographical and careers talk to over 1,000 of the University's students.

Commenting on his election to the Lecturership, Professor Holland said:

"I feel greatly honoured to be elected as the Yen Kwo Yung Lecturer, and hope that my visit can strengthen further the links that already exist between CUHK, Oxford and Merton College"

The New Asia College, part of CUHK, and the University's School of Life Sciences have co-organised the Yen Kwo Yung Lecture in Life Sciences since 2015; their aim is to broaden the knowledge of life sciences among students and the general public, particularly its value and applications in modern society. Previous lecturers include Professor Tsui Lap-Chee, the President of the Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong and former Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Hong Kong; and Professor Samuel S M Sun, Emeritus Professor of Biology and Member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

The Tree of Life: an Idea that Changed the World

Abstract of a public lecture to be given at the Hong Kong Science Museum on Saturday 8 April 2017 at 4:30pm by Professor Peter Holland

For many centuries, scientists and philosophers struggled to make sense of the diversity of animals, plants and other life on earth. Everything changed in 1857 when Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species: a remarkable book that would change the science of biology for ever. First, Darwin presented evidence that all living things are related through evolution. Second, he suggested a way to think about evolution using his famous metaphor of an evolutionary tree. Third, in parallel in Alfred Russel Wallace, Darwin proposed a mechanism for evolution: natural selection. Looking back after 157 years, have Darwin’s ideas survived the test of time? The answer is yes. The evidence for evolution is stronger now than it has ever been, with new data from the study of cells and embryos. The metaphor of a 'tree' still holds well for animals, although not for all living things, and DNA analyses have solved who is related to whom. For example, did you know that a fungus is more closely related to you than it is to a flower? To illustrate the tree of life, I will give a modern tour of the whole animal kingdom. Finally, we can add new detail to the process, because we can now detect the actual genetic variants on which natural selection acts: the important changes in DNA, the molecule of heredity.

Photo: © Wpcpey [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons