From microbes to mammoths, the vast menagerie of living and extinct creatures has yielded a treasure trove of data for scientists studying evolution: biologists, physicians, paleontologists, crop scientists, and computer scientists. Each discipline, each study, has often revealed a piece of the puzzle of evolution. But there's always been the problem that disparate scientists working on disparate creatures haven't been able to share their insights properly.
The new National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham promises to help scientists assemble those pieces to see the broad picture of evolution. A Duke-led collaboration that includes North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the center will develop a common "language" to enable communication among disparate scientific databases on the large number of organisms important in the study of evolution.
Funded by a $15-million grant from the National Science Foundation, the center also will sponsor education programs on evolution for teachers and policymakers. And it will work with agricultural and medical scientists to apply the new evolutionary insights to such practical areas as crop breeding and understanding the immune system to treat more effectively autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and lupus.