Meanwhile, adults and children can turn to the Web to learn about Darwinian evolution.
The Museum of Paleontology at the University of California, Berkeley, is developing a Web site that features interactive laboratories. Targeting primary, middle and high school students, the site, supported by a grant from HHMI, will show how evolution affects people's daily lives. Examples such as the human-microbe "arms race" of antibiotic resistance form the basis of the lessons.
Evolutionary biologist David R. Lindberg, the museum's director, calls the Web site's approach "less esoteric than exploring evolution by discussing why Darwin's finches all have different beak sizes." He recalls hearing a public service announcement last fall that reminded people to get their flu shots because "last year's shot won't protect you from this year's influenza strain." Why doesn't last year's vaccine work this year? The answer is evolution, Lindberg points out. Because viruses and infectious microbes have short life cycles, the rapid development of new strains of flu is really an evolutionary event.
People don't commonly think about evolution in the context of one year, nor is evolution part of their picture of disease and medical treatment. Yet such examples can bring difficult concepts home for students and adults alike. "Knowing that some people cannot simply get a penicillin shot to fight an infection because the bacterial strain they carry has evolved to resist the drug," Lindberg says, "gives evolution real meaning."
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
MORE ONLINE RESOURCES:
UC Museum of Paleontology:
National Center for Science Educationan organization that defends the teaching of evolution in public schools:
WGBH Boston Evolution projecta PBS miniseries with online teaching tools:
Photo: Fred Mertz
this story in Acrobat PDF format.
Reprinted from the HHMI Bulletin,
September 2002, pages 24-27.
©2002 Howard Hughes Medical Institute