AN international team of experts led by the University of St Andrews has been awarded a £5.7 million grant to further our understanding of evolution.
The multi-disciplinary team of 50 world-renowned figures will tackle the question with new perspectives on the relationships between genes, organism, and environment.
The grant from the John Templeton Foundation is one of the largest to ever be awarded to evolutionary research.
It will fund 22 interlinked projects under four umbrella themes and supports a wide range of additional activities that will promote interaction and collaboration between institutions in the UK, Sweden, and the US.
The guiding principles of the projects are to identify conceptual differences between traditional and alternative interpretations of the evolutionary process, develop theory that fills the gaps in contemporary understanding, and to devise key projects that provide critical tests of points of contention.
The work will centre on what has become known as the “extended evolutionary synthesis” in which the genome does not have privileged control over development and heredity.
Project leader Professor Kevin Laland, of the School of Biology at the University of St Andrews, said: “The extended evolutionary synthesis does not replace traditional thinking, but rather can be deployed alongside it to stimulate research within evolutionary biology.
“The new perspective retains the fundamentals of evolutionary theory – genes and natural selection remain important, for instance – but recognises a wider set of causes of evolution. Some of the burden of explanation for adaptation and the diversity of life forms falls on the constructive processes of development.”
“New views on development and heredity require new models of evolution” says Stanford University theoretical biologist Professor Marcus Feldman, a Member of the US National Academy of Science, whose project focuses on the evolutionary implications of non-genetic inheritance.
Professor Paul Brakefield, a Fellow of the Royal Society of London at the University of Cambridge, one of the participating universities, said: “I am very excited to be part of this initiative, which promises to not only advance our understanding of how evolution works.”
The four other institutions funded by the John Templeton Foundation grant are the University of Southampton, Indiana University, Clark University and the Santa Fe Institute.