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OU on the BBC: Jimmy Doherty In Darwin's Garden - Of Apes and Men

Updated Tuesday, 24th February 2009

Darwin looked everywhere for evidence of evolution - even in his own family. A tale of apes and men.

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Jimmy Doherty Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

In the last of the series, Jimmy explores the work that Darwin did on human evolution that he made public towards the end of his life.

Darwin left this topic to the end of his scientific career because he knew it was the most controversial part of his research and he did not want this to obscure the importance of his more general evolutionary work.

The first experiment Jimmy covers is the work that Darwin did on earthworms. With the help of Kevin Butt he recreates Darwin’s experiment to test the intelligence of earthworms.

Darwin used paper triangles to mimic leaves, and discovered that worms were able to select the triangles from the pointy end. This according to Darwin showed that even humble earthworms exhibit some degree of intelligence.

Darwin was convinced that many other attributes that humans possess are also found throughout the animal kingdom. This includes curiosity, as shown by his experiment where monkeys peer into a box that contains a dangerous looking snake, and the ability of great apes to recognise themselves in a mirror. Darwin also studied his own children and his work on child development was original and extremely far reaching.

Darwin thought that the expression of emotions was a further important area of research. Jimmy bravely volunteers to recreate the experiment of French anatomist Guillaume Duchenne.

Darwin was interested in Duchenne’s work because it revealed the musculature of the human face responsible for expressing emotions. With the assistance of Paul Ekman and John Stephens, Jimmy has a smile induced when electrodes are attached to his face. Again, Darwin was looking for parallels between the musculature of the human face and the emotional expressions of other primates.

All this work was building to the conclusion that humans had evolved from earlier apes. Darwin predicted that these early humans originated from Africa, and the work of modern palaeontologists, such as Chris Stringer, has confirmed this.

The story ends with Darwin’s final work on earthworms and his death at Down House and grand funeral at Westminster Abbey.

Jimmy then helps launch the Evolution Megalab experiment with the help of Professor Steve Jones. This is an ambitious study organised by The Open University to discover the modern distribution of the banded snail across the whole of the United Kingdom.

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