Professor Jonathan Losos is Visiting Murray Lecturer for 2010
14 October 2010
This semester, the School is privileged to welcome Jonathan Losos, Professor in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, as the visiting Murray Lecturer for 2010.
Professor Losos is the third person to hold the Murray Lecture position, which aims to bring an internationally noted academic to the School to present a public talk and participate in mentoring activities for postgraduate students.
A world leader in evolutionary ecology, Professor Losos' research primarily concerns the evolutionary diversification of lizards. An enduring area of his research has been to understand the radiation of the Anolis lizards, which are the most diverse lizard group on earth comprising 400 living species.
Professor Losos says that a childhood fascination with reptiles was the starting point for his scientific career. "Like most boys, I was obsessed with dinosaurs," he remembers. "Then I started keeping caymans and lizards at home, and my interest grew from there."
The start of his research on the colourful and diverse group of Anolis lizards came from a university research project. Whilst an undergraduate student at Harvard University, he made an important discovery about the functional significance of the dewlap - a colourful collar, which is flared out for communication purposes, that is characteristic of the Anoline lizards.
"People had observed that different species of Anolis, living together, always had different coloured dewlaps," Professor Losos says. "For my project I looked at two species that were identical, except for the colour of their dewlap. After doing tests in which I modified the colours of the dewlap using paint, I was able to show for the first time that the lizards do use the colour of the dewlap to recognise their own species."
Today, Professor Losos continues to work on Anolis lizards, which he says are excellent study organisms to use for unravelling some of the evolutionary processes that have occurred during speciation. "Lizards live in almost all parts of the world and show myriad different adaptations for surviving in different environments. They are also usually easy to observe in the wild and study in the laboratory, making them ideal organisms for investigating the origin and maintenance of biological diversity. The Anolis in particular have shown a spectacular radiation throughout the landscape, and offer a model for studying evolution that parallels the classic system of Darwin's finches."
Professor Losos will reveal more about his work on Anolis lizards at his public talk, Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree, held on October 20 in the Eastern Ave Auditorium.
His Murray Lectureship also means that postgraduate students will be hearing from him at a retreat to be held at Warrah field station in mid October.
What advise does he give budding biologists?
"Try to find questions that are both interesting to you and provide a new perspective to the field. With the competitive nature of science, asking the same question but on a different species won't get you very far. If you really want to make your mark, you need to develop your own ideas."
Professor Losos says that a broad knowledge base is key to helping researchers carve our new intellectual territory. "Read a lot, and learn as much as you can because the more you learn the more you will see connections and come up with new approaches."
Details of Professor Losos' public talk Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree
Time: 5:45pm - 6:45pm
Location: Eastern Avenue Auditorium, The University of Sydney
register online at www.usyd.nicheit.com.au/science/science_forum/
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or phone: 02 9351 3021
Contact: Carla Avolio
Phone: 02 9351 4543