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David Kingsely

The annual John M. Prather Lectures in Biology will showcase the work of David Kingsley, Professor of Developmental Biology, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Stanford University School of Medicine.  As an evolutionary biologist, Kingsley studies one of the biggest questions about life:  “We’re interested in how evolution creates new organisms”, he says. 

Kingsley is particularly interested in vertebrates and how skeletal development is genetically determined for any particular organism.  Understanding these genes and the effects of mutations can inform researchers directly interested in preventing human birth defects, repairing bone fractures and controlling susceptibility to arthritis. 

Raised in Des Moines, Iowa, Kingsley received his undergraduate degree from Yale University and a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He joined the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, where he did genetics research, before joining the faculty at Stanford University in California. 

Kingsley began working with stickleback fish in 1998.  When comparing sticklebacks in freshwater streams and lakes with the same sticklebacks after migration to bodies of water that are now isolated, differences can be seen in response to the new ecological conditions.  It is still possible for the fish to interbreed, and simple genetic crosses can be used to determine the molecular basis for the differences.  Kingsley and his co-workers then decided to examine the different sticklebacks and see what chromosome regions controlled the evolutionary changes.

Anatomical changes in the fish that help it function in its environment, while having no detrimental side effects, is an interesting move in evolution. “It’s an exciting result because it suggests that there are general principles that are going to underlie the way traits evolve in wild populations,” says Kingsley. “It gives me great encouragement that by continuing to study these interesting natural experiments we’ll be able to figure out fundamental things about how organisms actually evolved.”

Kingsley’s Prather talks include:

Selection in Action: From Dogs to HumansWednesday, May 23, 8:00 p.m.
Science Center, Lecture Hall B, One Oxford Street

How is Anatomy Encoded in the Genome?Thursday, May 24, 12:00 noon
Fairchild Lecture Hall 102, 7 Divinity Avenue

Fishing for the Secrets of Vertebrate EvolutionFriday, May 25, 12:00 noon
Fairchild Lecture Hall 102, 7 Divinity Avenue

The John M. Prather Lectures in Biology were founded in 1939 by a bequest of $25,000 from John McClellan Prather, A.B. in 1894.  The annual income of the fund is to be used to pay for the services of eminent lecturers on botany and zoology alternatively.  The Prather Lecture Series on Biology is sponsored by the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and the Science Center Lecture Series.