This course looks at the principles of evolution—which is important since all biology is now understood through an evolutionary lens. I will start with Darwin’s theory of evolution described in his book On the Origin of Species, published in 1859. I will include the people who influenced Darwin and helped shape his ideas. Darwin was an experimentalist and we will review how his five-year voyage on the Beagle (he spent only five weeks on the Galapagos Islands) helped craft his theory of evolution. The cornerstone of Darwin’s theory was natural selection acting on variation in population traits in response to environmental changes. Since Darwin there have been many modifications to his evolutionary framework. These modifications have been based upon expanding knowledge of genetics in particular and biology in general. In the 1940s, the modern synthesis was proposed built upon newer knowledge of genes and their actions. Variation in population traits was replaced by variation in gene variants. The evolutionary framework became gene-centered. More recently, biologists have realized that natural selection is not the only force acting to drive evolution. Evolution is a much-nuanced process. Other drivers include genetic drift, cultural selection, niche construction, epigenetics, lateral gene transfer, and phenotypic plasticity. These evolutionary drivers will be explained and discussed using illustrative examples. I will assume that participants in the course have limited prior knowledge of evolution and hence I will endeavor to make presentation of these topics as understandable as possible.
Each class will begin with a power point presentation and then shift to discussions and questions about the topics covered. I will make the power point presentations available to class members. No outside of class preparation is required.