Fall 2010 / Spring 2011
'Evolution of Sex'
Dr. Davis-Berg talks about her new Honors course
@LAS: What are the origins of your “Evolution of Sex” course?
Dr. Davis-Berg: I’ve been thinking about this course for a while. People are always interested in learning more about sexual behaviors. Sexual selection and behaviors are among the most fascinating topics in biology and are a great way to learn about evolution. The Honors Program seemed like a great venue for this course, and the creation of Honors gave me the opportunity to develop “Evolution of Sex.”
@LAS: How does the syllabus differ from your other courses that aren’t Honors-level?
Dr. Davis-Berg: One difference is it will be discussion-based, and there is no textbook. Instead, I have picked some popular books and a variety of primary scientific literature for the course. In “Evolution of Sex,” I’m putting much more emphasis on students’ learning how to interpret the primary literature, discuss the literature, and then translate it into clear writing. Also, the final project will be to write a sex-advice column from the perspective of an organism of their choice. This is a creative take on a scientific research paper, because the column will need to be based primarily on [scientific, research-based] literature—but the writing style will be informal and fun.
@LAS: Why will students take this course?
Dr. Davis-Berg: Students should take this course if they want to learn more about evolution and sexual selection across animals and plants. Oftentimes, sexual selection is only briefly talked about after natural selection when discussing evolution.
@LAS: Some might say sex is too risqué or too taboo a subject around which to center a course. What’s your response?
Dr. Davis-Berg: Biology is about sex. What I mean is that sexual selection is an important mechanism for evolution, and to teach sexual selection you need to teach about sex. When talking about sex, proper scientific terminology—rather than slang terms—is important to keep discussions appropriate. As I am a malacologist, which is one who studies snails, I know that it is common at meetings to discuss apophallation in banana slugs. Banana slugs are hermaphrodites, meaning that they have and use both male and female genitalia at the same time when mating. One slug will sometimes bite off the penis of its partner, forcing the partner to reproduce only as a female until the penis grows back. This is probably a subject that most males consider “taboo,” or at least it causes some to squirm. Science makes objective observations and strives to avoid any cultural judgments on these observations. Science doesn’t squirm.