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Feb 1, 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 3)

GEN's Interview with Dr. Francisco J. Ayala

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    Dr. Francisco J. Ayala is one of the world’s foremost evolutionary geneticists and a major proponent of Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection.

    Francisco J. Ayala, Ph.D., is university professor and Donald Bren professor of biological sciences, ecology & evolutionary biology, School of Biological Sciences, at the University of California, Irvine. Dr. Ayala is one of the world’s foremost evolutionary geneticists, whose academic distinctions and awards could stretch from his laboratory to the Galapagos Islands and back.

    He is a major proponent of Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection, and a frequent speaker on the topic. Dr. Ayala also constantly defends evolutionary science against the anti-Darwinian/antinatural selection movement known as Intelligent Design.

    Dr. Ayala’s research group carries out studies on the origin and evolution of introns and on the evolution and functional significance of pseudogenes and ectopic expression. They also continue to research questions related to the molecular clock of evolution. Since DNA and protein sequences can be used for reconstructing evolutionary history and timing events of the past, Dr. Ayala and his colleagues want to know “How good is the clock?” They are investigating a number of genes and testing new models of rates of gene evolution.

    Another major research effort focuses on the population structure and evolution of parasitic protozoa, such as those which cause malaria and Chagas disease. Additionally, Dr. Ayala is interested in the philosophy of biology and in bioethics, as well as in the relationships between science and religion, including the teaching of evolution in schools.

    Below are excerpts from a GEN interview with Dr. Ayala. The entire discussion can be heard as a podcast.



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Scientifically Studying Ecstasy

MDMA (commonly known as the empathogen “ecstasy”) is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which is reserved for compounds with no accepted medical use and a high abuse potential. Two researchers from Stanford, however, call for a rigorous scientific exploration of MDMA's effects to identify precisely how the drug works, the data from which could be used to develop therapeutic compounds.

Do you agree that ecstasy should be studied for its potential therapeutic benefits?

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