Oct. 2: Research pioneer explores history of mammals in Darwin lecture
Stephen O'Brien, chief of the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity at the National Cancer Institute, will lecture at UD on Friday, Oct. 2 from 4-5 p.m. in 101 Brown Laboratory.
Among his achievements, O'Brien has described formerly unrecognized species of mammals, including the African forest elephant.
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9:39 a.m., Sept. 24, 2009----Stephen O'Brien, chief of the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity at the National Cancer Institute, will provide a fascinating look at the evolutionary history of mammals in “21st-Century Origins: Retracing Genomic Natural History Across Mammalian Radiations” on Friday, Oct. 2, from 4-5 p.m. in 101 Brown Laboratory.

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The presentation, which is free and open to the public, begins the fall series of the Year of Darwin Celebration, which launched last May at UD in honor of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his landmark work On the Origin of Species.

O'Brien has numerous achievements to his credit, ranging from being the first to describe a human gene (CCR5 delta 32) to prevent the HIV virus from entering the cells of the immune system (it is one of 20 “AIDS restriction genes”), to leading the Feline Genome Project, a full annotated gene sequence of the domestic cat.

Additionally, O'Brien has described formerly unrecognized species of orangutans, Bornean clouded leopards, and African forest elephants. He also has documented the remarkable genetic uniformity of African cheetahs, which has advanced the discipline of conservation genetics for endangered species.

O'Brien trained in molecular and population genetics at Cornell University. He joined the National Cancer Institute as a postdoctoral researcher in 1971 and is now chief of the institute's Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, which he founded in the late 1980s. The laboratory has assembled more than 62,000 animal and 424,000 human tissue/DNA specimens, facilitating wide-ranging studies of disease gene associations, species adaptation, and natural history.

The lecture is co-sponsored by the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Undergraduate Science Education Program at UD, the Center for International Studies, and the Department of Anthropology.

Hal White, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and director of UD's HHMI Undergraduate Science Education Program, is the faculty host for the talk. Karen Rosenberg, professor and chairperson of the Department of Anthropology, chairs the University committee that is organizing the series.

Additional support for the series is being provided by the Provost's Office, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Science, Ethics and Public Policy Program, and the following departments: Biological Sciences, English, Geography, Geological Sciences, Linguistics and Cognitive Science, and Philosophy.

Future lectures in the series include “The Origins of Art: Is This What Being Human Is All About?” by Alan Mann from the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University on Nov. 19, and “What Darwin Got Wrong,” by Jerry Fodor from the Department of Philosophy at Rutgers University on Dec. 7. Additional information will be included in future UDaily articles.

Article by Tracey Bryant