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February 2003

Release Date: February 27, 2003

UCLA Paleobiologist Named Moon Lecturer at ASU

Dr. J. William Schopf, the discoverer of the world's oldest fossils, will deliver the 27th Annual Roy E. Moon Distinguished Lecture in Science March 25 at Angelo State University.

Schopf is director of the Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life at the University of California at Los Angeles. As a paleobiology authority on the evolution of primitive Precambrian organisms, Schopf discovered microscopic cellular microbes that date back nearly 3.5 billion years ago.

On March 25 he will give a technical lecture at 2 p.m. on "Astrobiology: The Hunt for Life on Other Worlds" and a public lecture at 8 p.m. on the "Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils: Solutions to Darwin's Dilemma." Both free lectures will be in C.J. Davidson Conference Center in the Houston Harte University Center on the ASU campus.

In the process of finding those microscopic yet complex fossilized organisms, Schopf has helped solve what has been known as "Darwin's dilemma," the absence of any fossil record beyond 550 million years ago. Though the record was there, no one until Schopf had thought to look for fossilized microorganisms.

Schopf's research has shown that evolution itself has evolved over the millennia with the critical point being the advent of sex about 1.1 billion years ago. Up until then, organisms reproduced asexually through cellular division. The first organisms to reproduce by sexual activity were floating plankton that had a pore-like mechanism that permitted the release of sex cells into the environment.

The fossil record shows that many new types of species appeared after that. Sex increased variation within species, diversity among species and greatly increased the speed, by geologic time at least, of evolution and of the genesis of new species.

As a faculty member at UCLA, Schopf teaches and conducts research in the university's Department of Earth and Space Sciences, Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics and Molecular Biology Institute.

He received his undergraduate training in geology at Oberlin College in Ohio and his Ph.D. in biology from Harvard University. Author of two books and editor of eight volumes, including two prize-winning monographs on early evolution, he has been honored as a Distinguished Teacher, as a Faculty Research Lecturer and with a Gold Shield Prize for Academic Excellence from UCLA.

Schopf has been listed by the Los Angeles Times Magazine as one of Southern California's most outstanding scientists of the 20th century. He is a Humboldt Fellow in Germany and a foreign member of both the Linnean Society of London and the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Science's A.N. Bach Institute of Biochemistry.

He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He is recipient of two Guggenheim Fellowships and the Alan T. Waterman Award of the National Science Board. He also has received the Mary Clark Thompson Medal of the National Academy of Sciences and the A.I. Oparin Medal of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life.

The Moon Lectureship was established in 1976 in memory of former San Angelo physician Roy E. Moon by five of his colleagues and has been funded annually by a grant from the physicians of West Texas Medical Associates. The lectureship brings scientists of national prominence to the ASU campus each year for public lectures, colloquia, classroom visits and informal discussions.