IISER Pune hosted the second “Foundations of Biology” meeting between 11-13 April-2015. The general idea for this series of meetings is to get together about twenty scientists from different disciplines and spend three days discussing and arguing about fundamental issues in biology, as opposed to just hearing people talk about their own work. The meeting involves a few short “seed” – talks where the speakers highlight some of the current ideas and controversies in the field. These then serve as the starting points for discussions and arguments involving all the participants. These discussions are essentially the soul and the purpose of the meeting and occupy most of the time in each session.
This year’s meeting began with Dr Renee Borges (IISc, Bangalore) and Dr Deepak Barua (IISER, Pune) elaborating on the controversies surrounding the process of niche construction and its perceived importance (or lack thereof) in evolutionary theory. In the next session, Dr Kartik Shankar (IISc, Bangalore) highlighted the inadequacies of species definitions while Dr Milind Watve (IISER-Pune) tried to propose a statistical solution for the definition of species. The third session found Dr TNC Vidya (JNCASR, Bangalore) and Dr Neelesh Dahanukar (IISER Pune) talk on various issues in phylogeny and phylogeography respectively. In the penultimate session, Dr Amitabh Joshi (JNCASR, Bangalore) presented an overview of formal evolutionary theory, with a particular emphasis on the Price Equation and its derivation. In the final talk of the meeting Dr Srikanth Sastry (JNCASR, Bangalore) presented a physicist’s take on formal evolutionary theory and its possible lacunae. The final session was devoted to putting the ideas together and coming up with consensus points.
Although each session was over two hours long and consisted of just two seed talks, it was soon clear that this time was not enough to do justice the discussions. Therefore, after the first session, the participants decided to expand the duration of each session by about half an hour. However, even this proved inadequate and a lot of discussion was seen to happen even after the proceedings of the day were officially over. Some participants carried back the spirit of the discussion into the nights, and each morning saw a number of points being raised over long emails. This then fueled further exchanges during the sessions. At the end of the last session, all participants expressed joy at the experience and felt that the discussions clarified their scientific thinking at multiple levels.
– Photos & Report by Sutirth Dey, IISER Pune