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Celebration highlights advancements since Darwin's time

Darwin Days 2017
Shelby Sage's art submission "Mother Otter and Baby" was the overall winner of the Darwin Days 2017 artistic tribute contest. Sage's project offers commentary on how human understanding of genetics has grown since Darwin's era, feeding into the theme of this year's event, which was "What Darwin Didn't Know."

At the annual celebration of Charles Darwin's birthday on the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Dahlonega Campus, students highlighted and examined how human understanding of evolution has changed since the famous scientist's era.

Held Feb. 1-3, Darwin Days 2017 sported the theme "What Darwin Didn't Know," and featured an artistic tribute contest with dozens of student entries as well as a community lecture and scientific lecture from Dr. Soojin Yi, professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

"While 'survival of the fittest' and 'Darwin' are probably the first things that come to mind when you ask anyone about evolution, it's much more than that. It's important not to overlook the other advances that have been made in our understanding of evolution since 'Origin of Species,'" said Danyelle Aganovic, lecturer of biology at UNG. "For example, Darwin had no idea what DNA was, how the rate of evolution can actually be quite rapid in certain circumstances, or the medical implications of evolution such as the emergence of 'superbugs' that are resistant to antibiotics. This broadens the topic of evolution for our students and community, and allows them to see more of its applications in their lives."

Rachel Perez, who graduated from UNG in December 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in biology and is working as a teacher's assistant while preparing for graduate school, said Darwin Days offers students an important opportunity to look at his scientific contributions with a broader perspective.

"Evolution puts its hand on many facets of biology subjects, from botany to medical science. I like how this annual celebration opens students up to more than just Darwin's finches, which seems sadly to be the only thing many students can recall about him," Perez said. "I've seen students' understanding of evolution evolve during these events as the years go by. It fostered a sense of curiosity to the world around me. Though it was a botany class that made me choose to pursue plant sciences, it was my evolution course that really solidified me wanting to work with plant evolution."

Darwin Days is hosted by UNG's Department of Biology, and supports UNG's mission to provide a culture of academic excellence in a student-focused environment that includes quality education, service, inquiry, and creativity.

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