Curriculum & Course Descriptions

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BS3016 Molecular Evolution

Course Coordinator: Associate Professor Konstantin PERVUSHIN (email: kpervushin@ntu.edu.sg)

Academic Unit: 3 AU

Availability: Semester 1 (Will NOT be offered in AY2016/2017)

Pre-requisite: BS2008

Course Type: BS-Major PE

Language of instruction: English

Teaching hours: Lectures: 22 hours; Tutorials: 14 hours; Practicals: 9 hours

Learning Objective: Knowledge Acquisition

  • Develop a comprehensive view on the origin, systematic organization and dynamics of Life
  • Gain hands-on experience in evaluation of evolutionary relationships between different organisms, genes and proteins.
  • Gain skills in quantitative evolutionary analysis of DNA and protein sequences.
  • Be able to present the evidence for the evolution of Life forms

Critical Thinking Skills

  • Develop critical thinking skills to evaluate theories of origin of Life, diversification and evolution.
  • Aware of current scientific breakthrough and discoveries related to evolution of life

Teamwork and Interpersonal Skills

  • Develop competences needed to function well in teams

Content: This course introduces you to basic principles and concepts of the theory of molecular evolution. This is important since, first, biological evolution is the unifying concept of the biological sciences and provides a useful context for making sense of the natural world. Second, from a medical perspective, biological evolution explains how humans are subject to natural selection, the origin of disease, resistance to antibiotics, viral function, and how to more effectively deal with current and future pathogens. Conservation, agriculture, environmental change, and forensics are just a few examples of other ways biological evolution informs our current understanding of the natural world. Biological evolution is usually addressed in any biology-based course providing important context as the unifying idea in biology.

Using tools of molecular analyses we take time in class to reflect on such fundamental questions such as: What is the origin of biodiversity and unity of Life in this planet? Who are we and our place in the Earth biosphere? How do we relate to each other and to other non-human species? Who were our ancestors? Where do we come from? Based on the molecular data we endeavour to establish relationships between different organisms both within the groups of closely related species (e.g. primates including humans) and across the largest taxonomic distances finding molecular features that connect the smallest microbes with the largest plants and animals. We endeavour to understand how complex new vital capacities (symbiosis, sex, multi-cellularity, social evolution) arose in the course of evolution and contributed to the ability of myriad organisms to survive, proliferate, diversify, and reorganize their environment in the course of at least 3.5 billion years of Earth history. We will analyse the evidence for a common genetic toolkit directing the development of all animals and answer the question of how evolutionary inventions helped to shape the biosphere and influence the nature of the organisms that inhabit it today.

The course features a school funded field trip to the newly opened Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg ) to expose students to Southeast Asian perspective on comparative biodiversity, taxonomy, systematics and conservation. The entire class session (including student presentations and continuous assessment) will take place in this exciting museum. The course also features several key note lectures of the distinguished scientists working in the field of evolution.

For every in-class session reference reading material and short videos highlighting the key concepts and methods will be provided as preparation for the class. At the beginning of the in-class session, these concepts will be reviewed and unclear points discussed. These concepts and methods will be put in practical use during the application exercises performed in small groups of six students in a TR+ “smart” class. The class sessions end with the oral presentation performed by a small group of students elucidating challenging and conflicting views based on the latest published research.

Learning Outcome:

  1. Apply the scientific process to address patterns and processes of evolution.
    • Students will be able to identify significant open questions
    • Formulate testable hypothesis and verify them using modern methods of sequence analysis
    • Collect and analyse protein and DNA sequence data in databases
    • Use quantitative reasoning to analyse, interpret, and present data
  2. Find, critically evaluate and communicate information on evolutionary questions.
    • Identify appropriate information sources
    • Comprehend and critically analyse primary, secondary and popular scientific literature
    • Distinguish between supported and unsupported conclusions in a given study
    • Convey the scientific argument through concise written and oral communication
  3. Think critically and in the light of evolution about biological research and its societal impact
    • Understand the role of science and in particular evolution in addressing societal issues
    • Understand how biological evolutionary concepts are derived from scientific research, and how further scientific advancement will support, refute or alter current theories

Textbooks/References

  1. The Princeton Guide to Evolution. [electronic resource, NTU e-book]
  2. Principles of social evolution [electronic resource, NTU e-book] / Andrew F.G. Bourke.