This website is about my work as a university professor. Up until 2019/2020, I was focused mostly on the vexed question of the evolution of programmed cell death in unicellular organisms. This is still a fascinating and compelling question in all biology: why single-celled organisms appear to have evolved a heritable mechanism for self-destruction (in anthropomorphic terms, a kind of suicide). But while writing a book in this field (see publications) my work took a 'philosophical turn' and I  became more interested in the conceptual issues concerning mortality, especially heritable death across all forms of life--its nature, evolutionary history, epistemology, and metaphysics.

 

Heritable death is indeed a strange phrase. Generally, it refers to endogenous modes of death that seem to be hardwired in an organism's biology. They may be genetically encoded or non-genetic, but either way they demonstrate at least some degree of heritability. Examples include programmed cell death in unicellular organisms, which originally drew me to this subject, but also phenomena like behavioural suicide in animals, parental sacrifice, and perhaps even aging depending how one defines it. All of these 'non-incidental' kinds of death are ubiquitous in the living world and explaining them is a challenge for philosophers and evolutionists. 

My research in the philosophy of mortality is a collaborative project during which time I am a networking fellow (2022 & March-July 2024) with Grant Ramsey https://www.theramseylab.org/ at the Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven (2022 and March-July 2024) and a research fellow (2023) at STIAS (https://stias.ac.za/).

The Biology / Philosophy tab includes all the usual things academics have on their research websites. The pages in this section include details about my lab, books, publications, pedagogy, collaborators, etc., and cover my work in academia and some of the applied spinoffs in biotechnology and medical research.

As with every other human, I have a unique story. For no other reason than to provide some background and to give a sense of my academic trajectory below are my qualifications and university affiliations. 


Academic qualifications
Science degrees: B.Sc (Zoology and Microbiology),
MSc (molecular evolution), PhD
Medical degrees: M.B.B.Ch (medicine and surgery) and
M.Med (clinical pathology)
Humanities degree: BA Hons (dramatic art)

Past or current university affiliations

KU Leuven

University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
The University of Arizona, Tucson
Kings College, London

Previous honorary appointments
1. Adjunct assistant professor, University of Arizona
2. Extraordinary senior researcher, University of the
Western Cape
3. Visiting scholar, KAVLI Institute, University of California
Santa Barbara
4. Visiting professor, University of Mauritius

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Mortality sometimes has an interesting relationship with evolutionary processes like altruism or cooperation. I don't study insects specifically but here is a wonderful example of cooperative behaviour that leads to mortality. In response to predation some ants such as these colonial weaver ants drop from their nests above. They bite and harass the browsers below, chasing them off (the bites are pretty unpleasant!). In doing so the biting ants sacrifice themselves. Their inherited behaviour is sacrificial in nature, which raises some interesting evolutionary and philosophical questions.
I photographed this in the iSimangaliso nature reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.