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Four-day symposium on biodiverstiy part of international initiative

Jim Barlow, Life Sciences editor
(217) 333-5802; b-james3@illinois.edu

1/23/2002

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The complexity and diversity of life, from insects to trees to mollusks to big cats and more, will be the topic of a four-day symposium for scientists converging on the University of Illinois campus Feb. 7-10.

The event will begin at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 with back-to-back public talks by Geerat J. Vermeij, an evolutionary biologist and paleontologist at the University of California at Davis, and Stephen J. O'Brien of the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Md. Their talks and the symposium will be held in B-102 Chemistry-Life Sciences Building, 601 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana. Advanced registration is requested but not required.

Vermeij is internationally known for his research on the ecology and evolution of marine mollusks. He is the author of several books, including "Evolution and Escalation: An Ecological History of Life," in which he lays out his view of the chronology of life during the last 600 million years. He detailed his own life as a blind scientist in the book "Privileged Hands: A Scientific Life."

O'Brien, the chief of the NCI's Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, is known widely for his contributions to gene mapping of many mammals, including humans. Based on his groundbreaking studies of the African cheetah, he is considered a pioneer in the application of genetics to conservation biology. O'Brien also is noted for his discovery of the first human gene to affect HIV-1 infection and the progression to AIDS.

Their talks kick off a series of more scientifically oriented lectures Feb. 8 and 9 during the "New Frontiers in Biocomplexity and Biodiversity Symposium" being sponsored by the Olga G. Nalbandov Endowment at the UI. The endowment funds interdisciplinary symposia featuring noted researchers in the biological and biochemical sciences.

Nalbandov received a doctorate in chemistry from the UI in 1946 and was a research associate in the department of dairy science. Her husband, Andrew V. Nalbandov, was an internationally known UI physiologist from 1940 until his retirement in 1977.

Symposium speakers include experts on data management, ecology, entomology, genetics, plant biology, population biology, systematics, and other fields from several institutions, including the Carnegie Institute of Washington, D.C.; the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y.; Michigan State University; University of Arizona; University of British Columbia; and the University of Chicago.

The event will adjourn on Feb. 9 in time to allow participants to attend the 19th annual Insect Fear Film Festival on campus in the Foellinger Auditorium. On Sunday morning, participants are invited to a presentation and tour at the virtual reality CAVE at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

Seating availability is limited for Friday night's symposium dinner, which will feature a keynote address by May Berenbaum, the head of the UI entomology department.

Co-sponsoring the event are the UI Environmental Council; the School of Integrative Biology; the departments of animal biology, entomology, plant biology and animal sciences; the Program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; the Systematics, Biodiversity and Evolution Group; the Illinois Natural History Survey; and the UI Sigma Xi chapter.

The symposium is part of the International Biodiversity Observation Year 2001-2002, an initiative of Diversitas, based in Paris. Diversitas is an international global environmental change research program sponsored by the International Council for Science, Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment, International Union of Biological Sciences, International Union of Microbiological Societies and UNESCO-MAB (Man and the Biosphere).