Evolution & Molecular Biology


Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module students should appreciate:
● The principles of evolution
● The application of modern molecular techniques to the study of evolution
● How to manipulate and interpret data, and solve problems relating to basic population genetics, molecular clocks and ancestry, and game theory


To provide the theoretical background for understanding the modern theories of evolution, including at the molecular level. To inform of the genetic basis of evolution and the way in which molecular techniques can be used to explore evolutionary relationships, including the use of molecular clocks. To motivate students, for example, by making them aware of how evolution has shaped human populations.


The course starts with an introdcutory lecture, including a brief revision of the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium and its relationship to evolution. There will be a workshop to explore the basic principles of population genetics.

The units of selection will be discussed with reference to selfish DNA, group selection, and epigenetic inheritance. The relationship between fitness and selection will be covered, with reference to experiments that demonstrate evolution in vitro. Consideration will be given to question of why organisms do not evolve to be perfect, and why in the modern world we might expect to see maladaptation rather frequently.

The use of molecular clocks will be considered in some detail, including to trace the evolution of the AIDS virus, primates, and humans. Molecular tools will be described for the measurement of evolution and for the screening of biodiversity among animal, plant and microbial populations. Various nucleic acid techniques will be described, including the sequencing of small sub unit ribosmal RNA, the measurement of various DNA polymorphisms via restriction fragment length polymorphisms, and the polymerase chain reaction based methods of randomly amplified polymorphic DNAs, amplified fragment length polymorphism, and microsatellites. Rudimentary analysis of data will also be covered.

The effects of genetic drift will be considered, including its importance to conservation. The importance of the founder effect, migration and inbreeding will be demonstrated using examples of human populations.

There will be a lecture and video on the evolution of sex. This will include a presentation of the arguments about why there are often only two sexes in higher vertebrates. There will be an introduction to game theory and its use in exploring the evolution of animal behaviour. This will include the evolution of animal aggression.