Lecture to look at 'Determinism vs. Chance in Complex Ways of Genomes'

January 18, 2013

A free public lecture titled "Life's Little Problem: Determinism Versus Chance in the Complex Ways of Genomes" will take place at 11 a.m. on Jan. 26, in 100 Thomas Building on the Penn State University Park campus. The speaker will be Kenneth M. Weiss, Evan Pugh Professor of Biological Anthropology and Genetics at Penn State University.

The event is the second of six lectures in the 2013 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, a free minicourse for the general public with the theme "Your Genes: How They Contribute to Who You Are." No registration is required. The lectures take place from 11 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m. on six consecutive Saturday mornings, in 100 Thomas Building.

In his lecture, Weiss will discuss the complexity of human traits and how the genetic basis of many of these traits often turns out to be perplexing. Weiss describes his research as "the nature of evolution as a process generally, and specifically how it generates the genetic basis of complex traits." He has studied many human traits, including tooth and skull shape, variation in disease susceptibility, and odor detection. In addition, he has worked on diabetes in Amerindians and the genetic basis of cardiovascular disease. He also is interested in the history of evolutionary biology and in the newly important area of bioethics as it relates to evolution and genetics in our society.

Weiss is the author or coauthor of numerous papers in scientific journals, book chapters, review articles, monographs, and books including "Genetic Variation and Human Disease: Principles and Evolutionary Approaches," first published in 1993 and later reprinted in 1995, 1997, and 1999, and "Genetics and the Logic of Evolution," published in 2004. In 2009, he published a book for a popular-science audience, "The Mermaid's Tail: Four Billion Years of Cooperation in the Making of Living Things."

Among the recognitions Weiss has received for his scientific achievements are the Juan Comas Prize of the American Association of Physical Anthropology in 1972, the National Institutes of Health Research Career Development Award in 1976, and the Harriet Cunningham Citation for Scientific Writing of the Texas Medical Association in 1986. He was awarded the Faculty Scholar Medal in the Life and Health Sciences at Penn State in 1993 and he was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1995. In 2009, Weiss was honored with a Bea Fowlow Lectureship in Medical Genetics at the University of Calgary.

Weiss served as a meteorologist with the rank of captain in the U. S. Air Force from 1964 to 1968 and later held faculty positions at the University of Texas, and has been visiting scientist at Stanford University, Rice University, the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, the Sanger Centre in Cambridge, and Yale University. He joined the Penn State faculty in 1985 as professor of anthropology and biology and head of the Department of Anthropology. Penn State honored him in 1994 with the title of Distinguished Professor and in 2000 with the title of Evan Pugh Professor of Biological Anthropology and Genetics. He also now holds an appointment as an external faculty member at the Santa Fe Institute for the study of complex causation.

Weiss received his scientific training at Oberlin College, where he earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1963; at St. Louis University, where he earned a graduate certificate in meteorology in 1965; and at the University of Michigan, where he earned a master's degree in anthropology and a doctoral degree in biological anthropology in 1969 and 1972, respectively.

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science is a program of the Penn State Eberly College of Science that is designed for the enjoyment and education of residents of the Central Pennsylvania area and beyond. More information about the Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, including archived recordings of previous lectures and a list of other lectures in the 2013 series, is available online at science.psu.edu/frontiers.

  • Kenneth Weiss

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated January 09, 2015