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February 2009

200 Years After Darwin

Arch Neurol. 2009;66(2):153-155. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2008.580

On February 12, 2009, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. He has earned the scientific reputation as being the most influential naturalist-biologist of his generation and perhaps of all time. Achievement of his esteemed status resulted initially from studying the geographical distribution of wildlife and fossils collected on his 5-year voyage on the Beagle and concluding that the “transmutation of species” was due to natural selection.1 In 1858, he was in the process of documenting his research when he received an essay from Alfred Russel Wallace putting forth the same concept of natural selection as the mechanism for generation of new species, resulting in a joint publication that same year.2On the Origin of Species3 was published by Darwin in 1859, making it now the 150th anniversary of its publication. This book proposed evolution as the scientific basis of diversity and species generation produced through the effects of natural selection. Evolution has been proven to be the mechanism for species generation and the engine for change is natural selection, providing the evolved species, beginning from a common organism, adaptation and fitness to maximize reproduction and survival. Dobzhansky put it succinctly by saying that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”4 Darwin expressed it eloquently in 1859:

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