Mia, Frank, Woody and Darwin

The conference with everything, says Matthew Symonds.

More than 140 researchers attended the Australasian Evolution Society.
More than 140 researchers attended the Australasian Evolution Society.

The word is telegony and it produced one of the main talking points at the recent Australasian Evolution Society’s conference in Geelong, hosted by Deakin’s Centre for Integrative Ecology.

It is, according to a person well-qualified to know, Deakin researcher Dr Matthew Symonds,  the President of the Australasian Evolution Society, the extremely bizarre phenomenon where offspring of a mother appear to take on the characteristics of a previous partner of the mother, rather than the biological father.

“A group at UNSW appears to have found evidence of this in a species of fly,” said Dr Symonds, the President of the AES and head of the conference organising committee.

“It was certainly the most curious talk I heard at the conference.

“I was therefore very amused to see the news shortly after about Ronan Farrow, the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, who appears to be remarkably like Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow's first husband.

“The conclusion in the news was very much 'oh he must be actually Frank Sinatra's son'.

“However, my response having been to the conference was 'hey, maybe this is telegony'.

“I was certainly more aware of the role of non-genetic inheritance in a way I hadn't been before.”

The broader subject of non-genetic inheritance was a central theme of the conference.

This is where traits are inherited from parents, but not through the genes.

“Cultural traits are the best example,” Dr Symonds said.

“However, the environment the parents were raised in can also influence the development of the offspring.

“There seemed to be a lot of interest as well in hybridisation this year.

“There was an excellent plenary to looked at how hybridisation, coupled with an invasive species of parasite, is threatening the extinction of a species of Darwin's finches in the Galapagos.”

Other topics covered included:

  • The evolution of obesity
  • Evolution of cooperation and  leadership in humans and animals
  • Evolution of animal coloration
  • How ants can navigate
  • Where life might exist on other planets

More than 140 researchers attended the conference in Geelong and according to another leading researcher from Deakin, Professor Andy Bennett, this conference and the Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour conference held last year, also in Geelong, re-enforce the University and its Centre for Integrative Ecology as world leaders.

“It’s been a pleasure to host the two key meetings in Australasia in animal behaviour and evolution in the last year,” he said.  

“We are all familiar with the Geelong Cats being recognised as one of the best in Australia.  

“Less well known perhaps is the international vitality and quality of our Deakin teams in evolutionary biology and animal behaviour.  

“As Frank Sinatra would say, we're doing it our way, and we're doing it well.”

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