Mohamed Noor

Dr. Mohamed Noor is a professor of Biology, former dean of his college, and currently the interim Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at Duke University. He teaches and leads a team conducting research in the broad areas of genetics and evolution using Drosophila, with emphasis on speciation, recombination, and molecular evolution. Dr. Noor has held many elected scientific society offices (including president of the Society for the Study of Evolution and of the American Genetic Association) and research journal editorships (e.g., editor-in-chief for “Evolution” 2016-2019). He has also been active in science education and outreach, including regularly giving classes and talks at various venues using science fiction to teach real-world scientific principles, and he serves as an occasional scientific consultant for Star Trek, with on-screen credits for Star Trek: Discovery seasons 3 and 4.

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Plenary talk title: Lethal mutations in natural populations and in fiction.

Abstract: For nearly a century, evolutionary biologists have observed chromosomes which cause lethality when made homozygous persisting at surprisingly high frequencies in natural populations of many species. The high frequencies are counterintuitive from an evolutionary perspective– what are these mutations, and why do they appear at such high frequencies? The Noor laboratory used extensive genetic crosses starting with wild Drosophila melanogaster to determine the genetic basis of lethal mutations and ultimately later to study the forces maintaining them. This is the most extensive mapping study of naturally occurring lethal alleles ever; the results show the first direct demonstration for a single locus, loss-of-function mode of action of naturally occurring lethal mutations; and the research provides sequence-level characterization of naturally occurring lethal alleles. The talk will conclude with a presentation on parallel educational outreach efforts using fictional representations to teach the public (and classrooms) about the underlying real-world science.