The European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB) has approximately 1,400 members mainly from across Europe. From students to professors, members of the society share a passion for evolutionary biology. Since it began 30 years ago, the society has shaped the direction of research into evolution throughout Europe. It has helped researchers by providing a networking platform, conferences and funding and introduced two academic journals. At the forefront of the ESEB is Professor Laurent Keller a Swiss evolutionary biologist.
Research Outreach spoke to Prof Keller about all things evolution, from what it is like to be president of the society to where the future of evolutionary biology is heading. He discusses why evolution should play a part in medical research, and the countries that are leading the way in evolutionary biology.
Hi Laurent! Could you please describe for us your role as President within the European Society for Evolutionary Biology?
How has ESEB evolved over the years since its inception back in 1987, and what are the society’s current main strategic focuses?
A more recent and related activity is called the Global Training Initiative. This is slightly different. It is designed more for scientists, but for countries where there is little research on evolution or a bad perception of evolution. We try to help scientists in these countries to meet and communicate together. This will typically be in countries where the topic of evolution and its research is limited, like in Turkey.
We provide the opportunity to develop different meetings and we also sponsor student meetings every two years. In addition to this, we provide special topic networks if people want to develop a new topic and so, they have a meeting to do that which we will also sponsor.
Do you think research for evolutionary biology receives as much funding and attention as it should?
The ESEB produces the wonderful Journal of Evolutionary Biology. What difference does it make in terms of spreading ideas and data?
What do you make of the open access movement?
The incentive to develop this journal and the society was to develop the research and study of evolutionary biology in Europe
ESEB offers several award initiatives to show recognition for evolutionary biologists, including the Presidents’ Award in which you have a large say in whom the award goes to. How difficult is it making that decision?
We also have the Maynard Smith’s Award, which is given to young researchers, and this has been quite successful. There’s a special committee where people can nominate researchers for the award and then the committee selects from the nominees.
From a more personal perspective, your research has seen you win numerous awards yourself over the years, including the Marcel Benoist Prize in 2015. Does winning these awards make all your work feel worthwhile or are they just an extra bonus for you?
ESEB hold a congress once every two years. How successful are these events and how important are they to ESEB as a society as well?
Humans have evolved; therefore, we must understand evolution and our interaction with other species, to obtain
a better basis of understanding
Fast-forwarding ten years into the future, what kind of state would you like the field of evolutionary biology to be in? Are there any areas you are particularly excited about over the coming years?
The same is also true with agriculture. The animal species we are consuming have greatly evolved over the last thousands of years because us humans have selected species to be more productive.
The third field linked to evolutionary biology that is also very interesting, is molecular biology. I think there is a lot to benefit by having more interaction between evolutionary biologists and molecular biologists. People have started to realise that there are many ways in which an organism can regulate gene expression. All these processes evolved by natural selection, and I am sure there is still a lot to learn about the selective forces acting on gene regulation and the evolution of our genomes.
- For more information on evolutionary biology and the European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB), please visit their website at www.eseb.org.