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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Beth Shapiro at Chautauqua

Beth Spiro is a Professor at Pennsylvania State University: Her field of expertise is the study of ancient DNA (fossil DNA) in order to learn how organisms, and species, responded to changes in the environment [Molecular Evolution]. She told us about her field work in Siberia and how she collects material from fossilized wooley mammoths and other species that lived there before, during, and after the last ice age.

Beth is an entertaining lecturer. She's a little bundle of energy on the stage, wandering back and forth sharing her obvious joy in doing science (except for the mosquitoes). Although she is best known for How to Make a Dodo, on Tuesday morning she described ways in which she might bring a wooley mammoth back to life. The experiment was illustrated with 56(?) colored ribbons representing the wooley mammoth chromosomes. Many members of the audience got to hold a "mammoth chromosome." As it turns out, the experiment might be possible but it won't be easy.

Beth Shapiro is as bright and interesting in real life as she is on the stage. That evening I met Beth and her husband when Carl Zimmer brought her along for drinks after dinner. (She drinks beer. Carl doesn't.) It was a delightful evening. I'm so happy to have met her. I was even happier to learn that she actually reads blogs!

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