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What is an individual? - Theory and practice behind the biological concept of individuality

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Sven Friedemann.

You, me or any other human being are individuals. There is no question about that! However, there are many other organisms for which defining what an individual is can be difficult. The grass, such as that in Darwin College’s gardens, is a good example. If we pull out a piece grass we will notice that it consists of a network of underground stems that could cover the entire garden. What is then an individual plant of grass? Where does it end? Does it ever stop growing? Can we count the number of grass individuals that live in Darwin College’s garden? Is there such a thing as a World population of grasses? These questions arise because our way experiencing individuality is not the rule. In fact, there are plenty of organisms whose individuals are very different from us, and for some other organisms the concept of individuality may not even apply. Furthermore, thousands of millions of years ago, at the beginnings of life on earth, individuals did not exist. Therefore, individuality in the living world—as we normally think of it—is not a given property of organisms, but is a product of evolution. This talk is about the biological concept of individual and the evolutionary process that generates organismal individuality.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Sciences Group series.

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