Modern Instrumentation in Evolution:
Progress in Darwin's Anniversary Year

Given the significant coincidence of two anniversaries in the year 2009, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin in 1809 and the 150th anniversary of the publication of one of the most significant science books "The Origin of Species" in 1859, the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in collaboration with other institutes in Trieste and Venice is organizing an exhibition to commemorate these two events.

    Our main motivation is to communicate science at the highest level of excellence, especially bringing it to the attention of the educated layman, the general public and schools. Especially we wish to focus on the relevance of Darwinism as the basis of biological thought and the modern progress that is currently being achieved in this area of research in Trieste, the City of Science, through its main components: our own Centre, the International Centre for Biotechnology (ICGEB), International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA), the Natural History Museum of Trieste, and the University of Trieste together with the Antarctic Museum.

    Some of the exhibits that we are planning include:

1. The evolutionary aspects of the evolution of man through the great discovery of the Man from Visogliano. Teeth belonging to this ancestor who inhabited our region even before the Neanderthals, or Homo sapiens are available to the M-Lab of the ICTP. With the help of synchrotron radiation, both from the AREA di Ricerca and other similar instruments in Europe valuable and thought-provoking information pertinent to our own evolution is emerging. Collaboration with significant samples are provided by the Superintendent Cultural Heritage of Friuli Venezia Giulia.

2. The evolution of the brain: from reptiles, birds, mammals, culminating in the human brain, the most complex biological organ known to science. With several instruments at the cutting-edge of technology, valuable information is being retrieved on the brain in several of the very advanced laboratories of SISSA.

3. Events in evolution: parallel histories of animals and plants in our region. The biological history of the Earth is clearly written in fossils of the last 560-580 million years. Since then the paleontological evidence begins to be more abundant, and especially more diversified. Global events control the rhythms of evolution. Variations in the climate, and other factors including tectonic activity are able to drive evolution. Many of these events are illustrated in our region in the Antarctic Museum with the help of modern instrumentation that is available in the University of Trieste.

4. The evolution of life on Earth. With the instrumentation available at ICGEB the genome of animals, including humans, and plants are being elucidated. One key element in this line of research was provided by the molecular clock hypothesis based on detailed analysis of the macromolecules of the genome that are called nucleic acids (RNA). This approach allows the understanding of the family tree of all life on Earth, which is technically known as the "phylogenetic tree of life". In this manner we are aware of three large groupings of all life in Domains, rather than Kingdoms, as was the current terminology before the advent of molecular biology.

5. The origin of evolution itself through the new science of astrobiology. Darwin's ideas have not only been extrapolated to the molecular level (chemical or molecular evolution) as demonstrated by the research at the ICGEB, but his seminal contributions allow the birth of a new science - astrobiology. With the main space agencies involved, the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA and the National Space Agencies of Japan, Russia and the two emerging leaders in space research, India and China, questions are being raised about the possible extrapolation of biological evolution in other worlds, including Mars and satellites in the Outer Solar System (Jupiter and Saturn). The ICTP, as well as many institutes in the rest of Italy, are contributing to the identification of the footsteps of life elsewhere in our Solar System. The summary of the presentation (in Italian) can be downloaded. The talk itself begins a few instants after the end of Prof. Nevio Pugliese concludng words.