Past Meetup

"How Adolescence Contributes to Evolutionary Success" with Prof. Kurt Illig

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Darwin Day, in recognition of Darwin’s birthday on February 12th, is an international celebration of science and reason. As is customary, our February chapter meeting will focus on a contemporary issue in evolution. We are pleased to welcome Professor Illig to speak to us about his current research.

Human adolescents have a tendency toward risky behavior and display a higher tendency for drug abuse. These same tendencies are found in other mammals, including rats which are close evolutionary relatives. Recent work from Dr. Illig’s lab has revealed that adolescent rats learn differently from juvenile and adult rats, and these differences coincide with changes in the dopamine system in the brain. In this presentation, Prof. Illig will discuss his findings and explain how risk-taking may be advantageous from an evolutionary viewpoint.

Kurt Illig survived his own adolescence in the Rocky Mountains despite participating in risky pursuits such as skiing and mountain climbing. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Drake University, and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Wisconsin Medical school until 2002, when he took a position at the University of Virginia. In 2009, he risked everything to take a position in the Biology Department at the University of St. Thomas, where he teaches, conducts research, and serves as Director of the Neuroscience Program. ◙