Geneticist’s Talk Will Discuss Gene Flow

Norman Ellstrand to give Faculty Research Lecture, the highest honor given by the UC Riverside Academic Senate, on June 8

Photo shows Norman Ellstrand.

Norman Ellstrand is professor of genetics at UC Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Norman C. Ellstrand, a professor of genetics at the University of California, Riverside, will give the 60th Faculty Research Lecture at 3:30 p.m., June 8, 2012, in the Genomics Auditorium on campus.

The lecture is titled “Is Gene Flow the Most Important Evolutionary Force?” and is hosted by the UC Riverside Academic Senate.

Gene flow refers to the successful migration of genes from one population to another.  Its potential importance as an evolutionary force often has been ignored or dismissed. In his talk, Ellstrand will argue why gene flow deserves respect.

He explained that natural selection is only one of the evolutionary forces, the others being mutation, genetic drift and gene flow.

“Theoretical studies have demonstrated that relatively low levels of gene flow are sufficient to counteract moderate levels of opposing mutation, drift and selection,” he said. “Mid-20th century research suggested that levels of gene flow were too low to be evolutionarily significant, especially for plants.  In the 1980s, genetic paternity analysis of plant populations — conducted at UCR and elsewhere — demonstrated that natural levels of gene flow are often higher than expected and at levels that could be evolutionarily important.”

Ellstrand’s lifelong passion for biology began at age four when his parents helped him match a picture of a Scarlet Tanager to a living bird outside his window. He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his doctoral degree in biology from the University of Texas at Austin.

His research at UCR focuses on applied plant population genetics, specifically on the evolution of invasiveness in plants as well as the role of gene flow in the escape of engineered genes.  He is mentioned in the ISI Highly Cited List; his list of publications is approaching 200.  He is the author of the book Dangerous Liaisons? When Cultivated Plants Mate With Their Wild Relatives.

Ellstrand’s many honors include UCR’s Dissertation Mentor of the Year Award, the Botanical Society of America’s 2008 Merit Award, being elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and receiving both the Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships.  He also has participated in numerous National Research Council activities and presented his research to various audiences ranging from US Congressional staff to Cuban biotechnologists.

The Faculty Research Lecturer Award, first offered in 1952, is the highest honor that the UCR Academic Senate bestows.

The free lecture is open to all. RSVPs, requested by May 31, can be made by calling (951) 827-5589 or emailing tammy.giglio@ucr.edu. Parking costs $6.

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