Category: Departmental congeries

Open Day!

For the non-CES followers of our blog

Indian Institute of Science (IISc) organises Open Day every year for interested people to visit the Institute and get a feel of the research that is carried out in different departments. This year Open Day is being organised on 2nd March, Saturday.

Treasure HuntNature trailWe will start our day with ‘Nature trails’, where some of the Naturalists hidden in our midst will meander into the campus foliage. The trail begins near the IISc Main building at 9 am and again at 4pm. Documentaries pertaining to Ecological research, conservation and wildlife will be screened at 10am, 12pm and 2pm. Treasure Hunt, where we teach the use of field biology instruments by tracking a snake toy, will run throughout the day at 30 minute intervals. Each lab will be presenting their work with the help of brief presentations and live exhibits and demonstrations throughout the day. Learning games such as ‘Who Eats Who’ (a puzzle of trophic levels) and Guess the Sound (guess animal vocalizations) will give away souvenir stickers to the ‘winners’!

Do visit us and let others know!



No, this isn’t a basketball game we were attending, but rather a desperate attempt by a clueless group discussion leader to bring a house to order. Little short of a parliamentary session, if you’d like an Indian analogy.

There was much variation in opinion within the group Friday last when we were discussing the second chapter of “The Origin of Species”, the larger group slowly diversifying into sub-groups and sub-sub-groups, with much confused looks on faces. Let me try and explain some of this confusion..

The second chapter “Variation under Nature” is where Darwin uses the classification of life (the Linnaean classification system) as

Darwin’s Shells Image from

a means to describe his theory of the origin of species, in a very brief way. The presence of “varieties” within a group of organisms was the baseline for the origin of “a new and distinct species” by “Divergence of Character”, was Darwin’s argument. Now here was where the confusion began… what did he mean by a “variety”?

In chapter one Darwin uses the terms “species” and “variety” without defining the terms (yes, I know, we researchers are hung up on definitions) leaving a lot of room for assumption. In the second chapter, he goes into great detail on the distinction between species and variety, and tries his best in defining what he means by a variety. I say tries his best because we were still confused even after all that discussion around the subject,  leading to confusion number one. The confusion wasn’t limited to us though.. Darwin also surmises that taxonomists (of his day) are a confused bunch over the topic, not being able to decide how much of a difference is necessary to distinguish variety from a species. However, he does mention his own definition of a variety as a form the characteristics of which “…. can be inherited for at least some few generations.“. This is an important point that he brings forth in the discussion, that of inheritance, which is, of course, a repeated theme in the book, but gets first mention here. It also got us thinking about whether he was alluding to epigenetics, and if he meant that forms otherwise just exhibited phenotypic plasticity. That got us arguing for at least a half-hour. We were just in the first para, by the way.

chapter2 2nd


On to confusion number two, and a jump to the concluding para of the chapter (as you can see, we were an organised bunch). Darwin talks about genera, how large genera have the most variation, and “larger genera thus tend to become larger”. But then he also says that “larger genera also tend to break up into smaller genera”. Now, pray tell, if this does happen, how do the large genera remain large?!

The gist of the chapter seemed to clear, but his justifications need more reading into, perhaps. We’ll be continuing with the confusions, sorry, discussion, this Wednesday, the 6th of February at 5.30 pm in the Tea Room. Do join us to add to the confusion. 🙂

Chapter 3 will be discussed most probably, on Wednesday next week on February 20th.

Origin of domestic races

Charles_Darwin_by_G._Richmond 1830's

Charles Darwin in 1830’s after the expedition by G. Richmond

Year 1831. 27th December. H.M.S. Beagle set on an epic expedition to survey Patagonia and other parts of the Neotropical coast. The captain of the ship, Fitzroy, would have never even dreamt that the journey is going to rewrite the history of life on Earth. Nor would he have realized that a young guy, who shared a cabin with him, will be the reason behind this. No marks for guessing who it was: Mr. Charles Darwin, my second hero (had given the first place to Mr. Wallace a long while ago!). The idea that of the origin of species, has its origin traced back to his five-year long journey (Are you listening?! Bloody five years, braving the odds of sea and uncharted landscapes. Imagine five long years of field work for your PhD. I wouldn’t have seen the end). That spark generated in him, generated a fire that burnt in him for almost twenty long years before culminating in a book, “the book” that shook the world. That’s 24 years after that expedition. In Darwin’s view an abstract. Hmm…what took him so long? More than that, what is that he wrote demands an understanding among students like us, separated in time by almost 150 years. Thanks to our ESS secretaries for deciding to explore this. The first meeting happened last Thursday. Target: The Introduction and Chapter 1.

I can summarise Darwin’s introduction based on three aspects.

  1. Darwin’s emphasis on the role of biogeography towards his insights,
  2. The controversy behind Wallace and Darwin and
  3. Influence of “vestiges of creation” on him.
200px-Charles_Darwin_aged_51 Maull and Fox 1859

Charles Darwin during the publication of Origin of species by Maull and Fox 1859

 As a student of biogeography, the first statement from Darwin’s Origin that remained etched in my mindscape is this one by him in the opening paragraph:

When on board H.M.S. ‘Beagle,’ as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts seemed to me to throw some light on the origin of species—that mystery of mysteries.” Darwin, 1859.

It was astronomer Sir John Herschel, in a letter to Charles Lyell in 1836, who had referred to the origin of species as the “mystery of mysteries” (Costa, 2009).

The controversy behind Wallace’s influence on Darwin seems to have been resolved (watch the appended video). In the introduction, Darwin explicitly acknowledges that he was “induced” to write by Wallace’s research paper send to him from Malay archipelago.

The third thing that Darwin mentions is this work by Robert Chamber “vestiges of creation”. Costa (2009) explains Chambers view as saltational vs. gradualism as espoused by Darwin. Chapter one was his attempt to prove this point and provide an exhaustive evidence for variation under domestication.



We, a bunch of nine, discussed for an hour on this chapter. Borrowing from Darwin, I would like to call this chapter the “Origin of domestic races”.

Darwin goes to stunning details on variation under domestication borrowing examples from plants to pigeons. Why take so much pain? It was his attempt to get across the message that domestic races share a genealogical relationship, an end product of human mediated accumulative selection that is artificial selection (Costa 2009). To cite Reznick (2010) “This opening chapter presents the raw material that Darwin needs for his subsequent arguments about natural selection to work. The changeability of organisms under artificial selection proves that the availability of heritable variation and amount of change that is possible are easily sufficient to account for the diversity of living things that are present in the world today, given the age of the earth and the vast amount of time that has been available for natural selection to act.

One last point, keep at the back of your mind the distinction between natural selection and speciation. Researchers including Ernst Mayr and recently, Jerry Coyne have argued that Darwin’s origin of species doesn’t quite address the issue of speciation. Let’s deduce it for ourself first hand if that’s the case!

Rupees 1,27,41831.28 check

Rupees 1,27,41831.28 check

Meet you all next Wednesday 5:30 pm Friday 5.45 pm in either the Lotka Volterra lab or the Class room. I will post all the soft copies of references to ESS. Pick it up from them.


  1. Charles Darwin, 1859, On the origin of species by means of natural selection or the preservation of the favoured races in the struggle for life. John Murray.
  2. James T. Costa, 2009, The Annotated Origin. Facsimile of the first edition on the origin of species.
  3. David N. Reznick, 2010, “The “Origin” Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the “Origin of Species”, Princeton University.

On the origin of the book reading group

We had a pretty good turnout for the first meeting where we discussed how to go about reading On the origin of species. We are starting off next week, Thursday (24th Jan), at 5.30 pm in Lotka-Voltera lab the class room.

We will start by discussing the first chapter – Variation under domestication. Mahesh Ramadoss (not from CES) would be leading the discussion to make sure we don’t miss out on any important topics. The person leading could shortlist possible topics of discussions to keep the discussion going. But everyone is expected to read the chapter and contribute in the discussion.

As of now we are not sticking to any particular edition, but it would be nice to know how your edition is different from the others. It would be great if someone takes up the effort to write about the discussion and summing up the chapter on the ESS webpage after every session. We could rotate and take turns on this as well.

You can look for the edition of your interest here.

Book Reading Group

When in class 9, there was a book fair in Bagalkot, my home town. Although any fair was new and exciting to us, a book fair wasn’t exactly celebrated. On visiting it with a few of my friends, the only familiar author I found there was Darwin. I knew I had heard that name somewhere in my biology class.

Since then, I have made several failed attempts to read On the Origin of Species and have not gone past some of the paragraph long sentences without feeling like a moron. On discussing this with a few people at CES we realised that a lot of people have gone through this exercise of attempting to read the book. So how about starting a book reading group where we can discuss On the Origin of Species chapter by chapter? We could take some ideas from here.

If this works well we could discuss other interesting books. So please do comment on

  • the idea (whether it would last till we reach the end of the book)
  • ways in which we could discuss the chapters
  • Probably we could also post excerpts from each session on the blog

If you are interested to join the book reading group, please leave your mail id here or mail us at  so that we can let you know when we plan to meet.

That’s All! (à la Annette Hanshaw)

The T-shirt

After a long time we’ve come about designing a t-shirt in CES, which we ‘unveiled’ during the recently held In-house Symposium. We had a great response to it, with almost 80 numbers already been ordered! You can order one of your own t-shirts!

The price of the t-shirt will be Rs.260 each and for those who were not around during the symposium or haven’t yet placed the order for the t-shirt, you can do so by mailing with the following details –

1. Name
2. e-mail address
3. Size (confirm using the attached size chart)
4. Mens / Womens
5. Colour (choose from White, Grey and Black)
6. Quantity

If you are ordering multiple t-shirts, please mention what colour/size/sex for each one.

The Size chart (PDF) gives details of how exactly you need to measure height and width of one of your t-shirts to get an idea of the size class. You could use that to confirm the size you want to order. T-shirts might vary by +/- 1/2 inch, but if in doubt, go for a bigger size.
Finally the payment for the t-shirt(s) has to be made by Tuesday (November 20) 5 pm to Viraj Torsekar in TA-08.

P.S. – Sandeep Pulla is the designer.