Foundations in Evolution & Systematics

A 3-credit course for life science majors

Course description

The theory of evolution provides the conceptual foundation for all of modern biology. Biology 354 will explore patterns, processes, and consequences of evolutionary change in the context of modern research. We will emphasize problems of practical importance in biomedical science, agriculture, and conservation. Among the questions we will consider are these: Where did the Zika virus come from and how might it be controlled? Can tumor cells move from patient to patient? What mechanisms drive evolution, and what do they tell us about the persistence of genetic diseases and the challenges of saving endangered species? What are the genetic mechanisms that underlie adaptation and speciation? Where, when, and how did modern humans arise, and what does this tell us about relationships among contemporary ethnic groups?


Biology 354 is designed to help students learn to think like evolutionary biologists. Our goal is to help you develop the knowledge and skills to:

  • Ask interesting questions about evolution;

  • Design experiments and plan observations to answer your questions;

  • Analyze and interpret data in an evolutionary framework;

  • Make inferences about evolutionary history and predictions about the future evolution of populations based on various kinds of data;

  • Read and critically evaluate papers from the primary literature on evolution;

  • Contribute to an informed conversation about evolution between specialists and the public.

Tentative Schedule of Lecture Topics

This schedule is subject to change as we all learn how to effectively navigate remote courses.