Carleton prof finds evolutionary clues in nature's 'bloopers'
'They actually tell us a lot about the way evolution works,' says Andrew Simons
Nature is full of wonders, but it's not perfect.
That's where Andrew Simons comes in. The Carleton University biology professor is exploring some of the natural world's more quirky phenomena to highlight the marvels of evolution.
Simons will deliver a lecture Wednesday evening at the Ottawa Public Library's Sunnyside branch called The Flaws of Nature, where he'll explain how pandas came to have pseudo-thumbs and why whales still have leg bones, among other examples.
"They're not really bloopers, they're things that appear to be sub-optimal, things that appear not to make any sense at all. But from an evolutionary perspective, they actually do make a lot of sense. They actually tell us a lot about the way evolution works," Simons told host Hallie Cotnam on CBC's Ottawa Morning.
He points to the panda, an animal that's classified as a carnivore but eats a completely vegetarian diet, as a prime example.
"So instead what it seems to have done is evolve a wrist bone that makes up a...pseudo-digit. It's not a real digit, but nature kind of just tinkers with what it has. And it's resulted in a really quite useful sixth digit that's not a real digit."
Like a whale out of water
Another example of one of these natural "flaws" is something many people may notice when they see the skeleton of a whale on display at a museum.
"The skeletons are always put together very nicely, except that you'll always see these wires that just kind of go off into the middle of nowhere, and hold these tiny, tiny bones," Simons said.
Simons feels "very lucky" to be able to explore evolutionary biology, and he's eager to share what he's learned in his seminar Wednesday evening.
"We get to try to explain really fundamental questions, like the diversity of life. How did that happen? Why are there so many different species? That kind of fundamental question. I guess I became interested in it for that fundamental reason."
Tonight's seminar begins at 6:30, and is free and open to the public.