University of Texas at Austin a Partner in Evolution Study Funded for $25 Million by National Science Foundation

Feb. 23, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin is part of a $25 million, multi-university center established by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will study evolution in action in natural and virtual settings.

The center, titled "BEACON: Study of Evolution in Action," is one of five highly coveted Science and Technology Centers recently established by the NSF. It is a joint effort by Michigan State University, The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Washington, the University of Idaho and North Carolina A&T State University.

BEACON is short for the "Bio/computational Evolution in Action CONsortium."

In contrast to evolutionary studies focusing on fossil records or comparing DNA among species to discover common ancestry, BEACON scientists will focus on evolution as an ongoing process.

They will use organisms in laboratories and at field sites, and use "digital organisms" undergoing real evolution on computers.

"The goal of the project is to transfer knowledge about biological mechanisms to engineering and computer science," said Risto Miikkulainen, professor in the Department of Computer Science. "On the other hand, we will use digital evolution to gain insight into biological phenomena that would be difficult or impossible to study in the laboratory."

BEACON will be a resource for academia and industry, performing basic research while helping create new technologies to solve scientific problems, ranging from the development of safer, more efficient cars to systems that detect computer intrusions.

In addition, the goal of the center is to educate a generation of multidisciplinary scientists and improve public understanding of evolution at all levels.

The University of Texas at Austin BEACON team includes Miikkulainen (Department of Computer Science), David Hillis, Lauren Ancel Meyers and Claus Wilke (Section of Integrative Biology) and Andrew Ellington (Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry).

The approximately $2.5 million of initial BEACON funding for The University of Texas at Austin will be used to support interdisciplinary and inter-institutional research projects, graduate training, undergraduate research through the Freshman Research Initiative, and outreach to high schools and the public through the Texas Memorial Museum.

For more details, visit the center's Web site at

For more information, contact: Risto Miikkulainen, Department of Computer Science, 512-471-9571.

8 Comments to "University of Texas at Austin a Partner in Evolution Study Funded for $25 Million by National Science Foundation"

1.  Bill said on March 4, 2010

Never have I been more proud of my alma mater! Standing up to right wing religious, fundamentalists who would demand that we all march in lock-step to their deeply flawed and dangerous belief system. Way to go UT -- science is not a "theory"! (We owe our children the best education available -- not one based on honoring segmented comfort zones.)

2.  Steve DeRosa said on March 4, 2010

Would you or one of your colleagues be interested in making a 30-minute presentation on BEACON to the Metropolitan Breakfast Club? We meet at the University Club Wednesdays at 7 a.m. Steve, 833-6688.

3.  Robert (Bob) Bluntzer said on March 4, 2010

I am a member of UT Quest's lecture committee. Quest is a part of the UT Continuing Education program at the Thompson Conference Center. I am inquiring to find out if one of the BEACON team members could give a one-hour lecture this fall on the BEACON program to UT Quest? I look forward to receiving a response. Thanks for the opportunity.

4.  Troy said on March 4, 2010

Perhaps their research will prove the theoretically stated statistical probability of evolving life to be 1x10^10^123, or the probability of just evolving amino acids to be 1x10^40000, both of which far exceed the accepted value of mathematical impossibility (1x10^50). Troy, B.A., Biology, The University of Texas Austin, 1994.

5.  Sally Capps said on March 6, 2010

I am a 77-year-old UT graduate. And it pleases me greatly to know that my school has been invited to participate in this study and that it has accepted. Your move will positively impact secondary education in our state.


6.  Care said on March 8, 2010

Evolution as an ongoing process...yes, this may help to counterbalance the students in Austin who asked people to trade in their Holy Bibles for pornographic magazines this week. Maybe you can invite some of them! Tell them Jesus is an adopted Texan while you've got their attention. ; )

7.  David Fozdar said on March 18, 2010

I, too, am quite proud that UT is participating in these studies. It shows that our great university is committed to science, fact, logic and reason over political and religious ideology.

8.  Tad Patzek said on March 19, 2010

Dear Troy,

For most of us scientists probablilities are between 0 and 1. Also, it turns out that light-driven synthesis of RNA and DNA fragments was almost inevitable within the surface skin layer of water in contact with the ancient earth atmosphere more than 3 billion years ago.