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College of Arts and Sciences

Townsend Lecture Series

Through accessible talks by renowned scholars, the Townsend Lecture Series explores two topics that were the passions of Dr. J. Ives Townsend: the impact of biological sciences on society, and southern culture.

Homo sapiens 2.0: Will Modern Genetics Change Who We Are?

Photo of Shirley Tilghman


Shirley M. Tilghman  
President Emerita, Princeton University
Advisor to the Human Genome Project 

Tuesday, March 21, 6 p.m.
Capstone Campus Room

The Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, revolutionized the field of human genetics.

By studying thousands of human genome sequences, scientists are discovering the molecular causes for multiple diseases, with the promise of treatments and even cures for some of the most intractable and debilitating diseases.

Others are exploring the past with greater understanding of the nature, extent and meaning of human genetic variation, and gaining greater insight into the evolution of Homo sapiens through the sequencing of ancient DNA.

The revolution accelerated with the 2012 discovery of facile gene editing, the ability to intentionally modify the sequence of the human genome.

In this Townsend Lecture, Shirley Tilghman, a founding member of the National Advisory Council of the Human Genome Project, will explore the scientific and societal implications of these revolutionary advances in technology at a time when, as Isaac Asimov said in 1988, “…life gathers knowledge faster than society  gathers wisdom.”

This event is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is suggested. Check-in will open at 5:30 p.m. and the program will begin promptly at 6 p.m.

Register Today!

About Shirley M. Tilghman  

Shirley M. Tilghman was elected Princeton University’s 19th president on May 5, 2001 after serving on the Princeton faculty for 15 years. Upon the completion of her term in June of 2013, she returned to the faculty. During her scientific career as a mammalian developmental geneticist, she studied the way in which genes are organized in the genome and regulated during early development, and was one of the founding members of the National Advisory Council of the Human Genome Project for the National Institutes of Health.

Tilghman is an Officer of the Order of Canada, the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Developmental Biology, the Genetics Society of America Medal, the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science, and the George W. Beadle Award from the Genetics Society of America. She is a member of the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Royal Society of London. She serves as a trustee of Amherst College, the Institute for Advanced Study, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Simons Foundation. She is a director of The Broad Institute of MIT and the Hypothesis Fund, and a Fellow of the Corporation of Harvard College, and is an external science advisor for the Science Philanthropy Alliance. 

About the Townsend Lectures

Dr. J. Ives Townsend was a native of Greenwood, South Carolina. In 1996, as Professor Emeritus of Human Genetics at the Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, he established an endowment in the University of South Carolina Educational Foundation to fund the Townsend Lectures. The lectures honor his parents (Joel Ives Townsend, 1911, and Emma Chiles Cothran Townsend) and grandparents (Robert Wallace Townsend, who attended the University of South Carolina in 1883-1884, and Amelia Dalton Carter Townsend). Following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather, and many other relatives, including two great-great-grandfathers who graduated from the institution in the 1820s, Dr. Townsend attended the university and graduated with a B.S. in Chemistry with a minor in Biology in 1941. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Dr. Townsend strongly believed that the sciences, the arts, and the humanities are not separate branches of knowledge, but should be integrated within an academic setting. In addition to being a scientist, he was a connoisseur of Southern art and architecture. Thus, in making his gift to the university, he stipulated that the lectures alternate between two topics: “The Impact of the Biological Sciences on Society” and “Southern Culture”. He cared deeply for students, and admitted that his true goal was to make a significant difference in their lives. He often stated: “Today's students deserve all that I am able to give them”.

Dr. Townsend passed away on July 29, 2005 at the age of 85.

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