(Image credit: E. Hagan-Lawson)
Professor Michael Gillings is a member of the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University and an academic member of the Big History Institute. Read why Michael thinks Big History matters for science and biology.
Michael Gillings is a Professor of Molecular Evolution at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. His academic areas of focus include genetic diversity and the movement of mobile DNA between species; moreover he has also published opinion pieces on DNA technology, the Anthropocene,
and human evolution. Michael will contribute his expertise in evolution and the origins of life to the upcoming Big History MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), which is currently in development.
Science communicating and Big History
For Michael, Big History provides a useful framework for understanding and communicating knowledge from different disciplines. "Big History unites all of the disciplines," explains Michael, as it "allows us to meet and interact with people from diverse places."
Big History "encourages truly cross-disciplinary interactions that cut across individual projects and research interests," says Michael. A passionate advocate for effective science communication
Michael believes that it is important to engage with other disciplines in order to communicate knowledge effectively. Michael regularly contributes to the public space thanks to his guest spot on the James O'Loghlin show on the ABC and numerous public appearances, including at TEDxMacquarie.
Michael believes academics "tend to be focused on their area of expertise," but he is enthusiastic to see how Big History can allow knowledge to cross disciplinary boundaries.
"If we don't think about these things now, we'll pay a lot more later on"
Michael's recent work focuses on the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch characterised by the impact of humans on our planet. Michael's current work focuses on using existing scientific knowledge to prepare
us for the future. His personal research continues to look at microbiology in the Anthropocene, as he investigates the ways in which microorganisms experience and respond to the changes that our planet is undergoing.
Michael believes that science is there to "improve the accuracy of what we're going to call," but also stresses its importance as he warns that "If we don't think about these things now, we'll pay a lot more later on." He also believes that science presents many opportunities for humans to improve
the planet, adding that there is "potential for engineering organisms to reverse damage to the planet."
Despite this forward-thinking approach, his research into the pollution caused by antibiotics, and the rapid technological advances in the replication and storage of DNA information, Michael also warns that we should think carefully about the ways in which we use these forms of scientific knowledge
in the modern age.
"None of us have to know everything," says Michael. However shared learning provides the tools and opportunities to meet the challenges that face our planet.
'The cost of living in the Anthropocene' by Michael R Gillings and Elizabeth L Hagan-Lawson
'DNA technology and evolution of the Central Dogma' by
Michael R Gillings and Mark Westoby
'Microbiology of the Anthropocene' by Michael R Gillings & Ian T. Paulsen
Michael is also a regular on Sundays with James O'Loghlin, on the ABC.
Listen to the show's podcasts here.