Why do only certain species survive? Who lives? Who dies? How can our growing knowledge of genomes reveal a deeper understanding of life’s cycles and secrets? Hear a conversation between Martin Chalfie, 2008 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, introduced green fluorescent protein as a biological marker, enabling scientists to study biological processes that were previously invisible, and Nat Geo Emerging Explorer Beth Shapiro, who uses ancient plant and animal DNA to study evolution. Nat Geo Weekend host Boyd Matson moderates."
Martin Chalfie is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Biological Sciences at Columbia University, where he is also chair of the department of biological sciences. He shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Osamu Shimomura and Roger Y. Tsien "for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP". He holds a Ph.D. inneurobiology from Harvard University.
Beth Shapiro is an assistant professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University and is a widely acclaimed researcher in the brand-new field of ancient DNA. She was recently a featured scientist in a special Smithsonian magazine section, "37 Under 36: America's Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences" for her work analyzing the DNA of the long-extinct dodo bird. She was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2009.
Ancient DNA research analyzes the genes of extinct plants and animals, letting scientists trace the evolution and extinction of species with a precision unimaginable just five years ago. By comparing dodo DNA with the genes of five other species, for example, Dr. Shapiro's research established that the flightless bird was a distant relative of the pigeon. Her 2004 paper in Science argued that the bison decline began much earlier than suspected - about 37,000 years ago - and was thus not caused primarily by human hunters in North America.
As a Rhodes Scholar in 1999, Dr. Shapiro apprenticed with Oxford University's Alan Cooper, a pioneer in ancient DNA research, and in the six years since, she has risen to the top of the field. She would eventually replace Dr. Cooper as the head of Oxford's Henry Wellcome Ancient Biomolecules Centre where she stayed until her appointment at Penn State this fall.