Part of what I love about the faculty talks, is that we’re not just learning “facts” you can get out of a science textbook. We’re seeing how science is actually being applied to the real world. We’re not hearing about the stuff that everyone is so sure about, but the speculations, the strange occurrences that we’re all trying to explain, the results that can potentially lead to something no one’s ever heard about.
One of the talks that I enjoyed the most would have to be Dr. Nijhout’s lecture. I was enraptured by the case of polyphenism in butterflies–how two butterflies of the exact same genotype could look completely different, just because of the amount of light they were exposed to as a larvae. In a way, that also makes sense, because the differing amounts of light can signal different environments that the butterflies have to adapt to.
It wasn’t just the butterflies that sparked my interest, but the case of the juvenile hormone that’s present in organisms like bees, ants, and dung beetles. In ants, this hormone controls the head proportion ants have–an increase in juvenile hormone was found to be followed by an increase in soldier ants (with larger head proportions) . Dr. Nijhout also explained, however, that these soldier ants are only 20% of the population because solider ants release a hormone that raises the threshold for others to be soldiers..so the more soldiers there are, the harder it is others to be as well. To me, it’s such an interesting phenomenon, because it seems that mother nature just seems to know how to prevent an excess of soldiers.
Dr. Nijhout also explained the high-low-no hypothesis, which tried to explain how the juvenile hormone worked to control metamorphosis. It was the one of the cornerstones of that science for three decades, until it was proven to be wrong. As discouraging as that may seem, that information we believed to be true for three decades to be proven false, it was actually quite refreshing to hear.
It just shows the uncertainty science really is. What’s right today can be wrong tomorrow, and that’s fine because it just proves that anything is subject to change in the real world–a thought that’s both daunting fascinating.