Allan Wilson: Evolutionary

Wednesday 11th February at 8.30pm.

The story of the New Zealand born Berkeley Professor who revolutionised the way we study how life on earth evolved.

Allan Wilson: Evolutionary profiles the scientist’s remarkable career and explores the enduring impact of his ideas on anthropology, molecular biology and all the natural sciences. Wilson was short listed for the Nobel Prize and is the only New Zealander to win the prestigious US MacArthur “Genius” Award.

A groundbreaking researcher and a lightning rod for controversy, Wilson galvanized the scientific community through his quantitative biochemical approach to the history of evolution.  In the late 1960s, palaeontologists had dated our common ancestor with the apes as living 15 million years ago. Wilson turned that assumption on its head by bringing the date forward to just five million years, using what has become known as the ‘molecular clock.’ Wilson’s team were also instrumental in identifying ‘Eve’ – discovering that mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down the female line, can be traced back to one woman, who lived in Africa 150,000 years ago.

Drawing upon the insights and recollections of those who knew Wilson best, this documentary —narrated by paleoanthropologist Tim White, co-discoverer of the famous hominid fossil, “Lucy”—correlates milestones of his remarkable career with his enduring contributions that range from molecular phylogenies of multiple species to an understanding of mechanisms underlying the mode and tempo of organismal evolution.

Former students who worked closely with him on his key discoveries explain how his courage and insights overturned long held conventions. Superb animated graphics illustrate how he found new answers to the big questions of evolution: when did human and ape diverge? How close are the links we share with them? Where did modern humans come from? And how do we unlock the secrets of the past from the DNA of extinct creatures?

“Wilson’s battles for acceptance may not have been on the heroic scale of Galileo’s or Jenner’s but he was, for a long time, a man whose story was untold. Andrews, a prolific producer, was financed entirely by Berkeley, after TVNZ, which apparently regarded Dancing With The Stars as a worthier recipient of charter funding, passed.  There’s a good chance this will be your only chance to see this interesting, accessible film about a great New Zealander.”
* * * Stars. Peter Calder, New Zealand Herald, 2008.

“A shrewd insight into the man, well worth seeking out” Helene Wong NZ Listener

The Documentary Channel is delighted to be able to give away five copies of Allan Wilson: Evolutionary. For details please go to

Allan Wilson: Evolutionary has been scheduled to celebrate the birth of Charles Darwin on February 12th, 200 years ago and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the ‘Origin of Species’. The Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Evolution and Ecology, based at Massey University, is pleased to sponsor the BioEd2009 Symposium from February 12th to 15th to celebrate the impact of Darwin’s ideas on current scientific knowledge.

Talks in the symposium will cover topics ranging including: the origins of life and species; the impact of Darwinian thinking on our understanding of biology and biodiversity; the descent of man – what we’ve learnt about ourselves 200 years on; the response of biota to climate change and how it is expected to respond in the future; emerging infectious diseases and public health; the impact of Darwinian thinking in medicine; tools, ideas and resources for teaching evolution; and the future of education. For a full programme of events and speaker biographies, please visit the BioEd website:

The Allan Wilson Centre comprises world-class ecologists, evolutionists, geneticists and mathematicians who work together to unlock the secrets of plants, animals and microbes. Recognized both nationally and internationally for its innovative and interdisciplinary approach to science, the Centre’s unparalleled combination of biology and mathematics has resulted in outstanding research achievements.  

Documentary Channel, SKY Digital Channel 74

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