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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Pulitzer winner works to preserve biodiversity

[media-credit name=’BRYAN FAUST/Herald Photo’ align=’alignnone’ width=’648′]DLS_bf-416[/media-credit]World-renowned biologist Professor Edward O. Wilson spoke to students, faculty and members of the Madison community about biodiversity and the destruction of ecosystems Wednesday night.

Wilson, a Pellegrino University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard University and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, spoke as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series put on by the Wisconsin Union Directorate.

Calvin B. DeWitt, a professor of environmental studies at the Nelson Institute at the University of Wisconsin, described Wilson as a "preeminent biological theorist."


As such a biological theorist, Wilson supported the theory of evolution and went on to say the theory could become law "whenever more people take Biology 101."

To add to his point, he said he considers the theory of evolution as defendable as the effects of physics and chemistry on living organisms.

According to DeWitt, Wilson's contributions to science include introducing "many new words and ideas" to popular vernacular, including the term "biodiversity."

"I hope that I have added to the convictions shared by a growing number of people of all walks of life that [the destruction of biodiversity] is a problem that can be solved," he said. "The benefits will be beyond comprehension."

Wilson said he believes biodiversity, or the variety of living organisms on the planet, is being "eroded by human activity."

He perceived the future of life on Earth as approaching a "bottleneck," in which rapid population growth would severely limit the resources available for animal species to survive.

Furthermore, he noted "scientists have found the biosphere to be far richer than ever before conceived."

Among the findings, Wilson highlighted the discovery of Subsurface Lithoautotrophic Microbial Ecosystems, known also as "SLIMEs."

According to Wilson, discoveries were due in part to new research innovations, including installing large cranes in the rainforest to suspend scientists in the canopy.

"It looks dangerous, but that's what graduate students are for," he joked.

He insisted environmental changes had to be made to protect hundreds of thousands of organisms from extinction, saying, "We have no choice."

He described the ecosystems as microscopic organisms that survive deeply underground having no contact with the surface of the earth and also noted the mass of such organisms is greater than that of all living creatures on the earth's surface.

Wilson also outlined ways the scientific community can retain new information about biodiversity at an exponential rate.

But UW Mathematics Department Administrator Victoria Whelan said some of Wilson's concepts were difficult to envision.

"It would have been nice to have heard some solutions or forward progress on how to stop the burning of the rainforest," Whelan said.

Following the lecture, Wilson noted other scientific innovations and practices, such as artificially altering the genetic makeup of organisms could be beneficial to science.

"In principle, genetically modified species are a good thing." he said.

Additionally, he said the risks involved in this process must be carefully considered.

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