Joan Strassmann, expert on the evolution of cooperation, to deliver Evolutionary Studies seminar
Joan Strassmann, a world leading expert on the evolution of cooperation and fellow of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, will be giving a talk on experimental evolution of microbes on Friday Feb. 24th. The event will begin at 3:30pm in Medical Research Building III room 1220 and is open to the Vanderbilt community. Snacks and drinks will be available. The title of her talk is “Microbial experimental evolution: social behavior, mutualism, and predator-prey interactions.”
Strassmann’s groundbreaking work has focused on social amoebas, especially Dictyostelium discoideum. This amoeba has a fascinating life-history, with individual amoeba cells grouping together to form a fruiting body, which then falls over to become a slug, moving forward toward external stimuli, such as light, until the slug settles into a spot and spreads out to begin the process over again. The Strassmann lab has investigated the social interactions between the amoeba and different species of bacteria. Strassmann found that Dictyostelium can engage in primitive agriculture that includes dispersal and harvesting of a bacterial “crop”, and they use other bacteria as intraspecific weapons, and some are toxic. Strassmann’s work has earned her many honors, including election to fellowships of the Animal Behavior Society (2002), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2004), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2008), and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (2013).
In 2022, Strassmann published a popular science book called, “Slow Birding: The Art and Science of Enjoying the Birds in your own Backyard.” This book is for those of us interested in learning more about – and perhaps appreciating more deeply – the wonders of the local birds in our own neighborhoods. A great example of the content from the publisher’s website is that we may know how to identify a white-throated sparrow – but did you know that some males of that species might have a tell showcasing their philandering nature?
In addition to popular science writing, Strassmann has been a leading advocate and contributor to the use of Wikipedia for education. She described her first experience learning to edit Wikipedia in a guest contribution to Secrets of Teaching with Wikipedia in February 2018. She has taken the classic term paper and morphed it rather into something more useful and beautiful. Students in her Behavioral Ecology course create and curate Wikipedia content for all to access.
Strassmann is currently the Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology at Washington University in St. Louis. She received her B.S. from the University of Michigan and her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1979. She was on the faculty at Rice University from 1980 until joining Washington University in St. Louis in 2011.
The Vanderbilt Evolutionary Studies Initiative was established in August 2019 with the aim of uniting a remarkably diverse array of scholars from a variety of disciplines with broad interests and expertise in evolution-related fields.