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Unit information: Plant Evolution, Development and Diversity in 2020/21

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Plant Evolution, Development and Diversity
Unit code BIOL30007
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Jill Harrison
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Biological Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Life Sciences



Land plants originated from their aquatic algal ancestors around 470 million years ago. This unit explores how plants originated and diversified. It aims to give students a framework to discover the developmental and genetic basis of changes in plant form and function that occurred during evolution, discuss the ecological context for such changes, and identify their relevance to engineering the architecture of future plant forms.


The unit is structured to give an overview of the evo-devo research field and introduce core principles of the evo-devo field. Teaching will take place on how genes enable the major organ systems of vascular plants to arise and will then build on these principles to explain how seed and flowering plants originated and diversified, with a focus on the radiation of flowering plants.

Intended learning outcomes

After taking the unit students will be able to:

  1. Describe the organography of diverse plant forms sampled across the plant tree of life
  2. Discuss the developmental and genetic mechanisms by which plant form arises
  3. Design rigorous testable hypotheses of morphological change in plant evolution
  4. Explain why the mechanisms regulating plant form are relevant to humans.

Teaching details

Lectures, directed reading, research and/or problem-solving activities; and independent study.

Assessment Details

Summative written assessment, with one essay question to be selected from a choice of two.

Reading and References

Most of the lecture material for the specific subjects considered in this Unit is taken from research papers and is not covered in any one textbook. You will receive a recently-updated reading list at the start of teaching of this unit but see two recent reviews below for an idea of the subject area.

Pires and Dolan (2012). Morphological evolution in land plants: new designs with old genes. Phil Trans R Soc B 367: 508-518.

Harrison (2017). Development and genetics in the evolution of land plant body plans. Phil Trans R Soc B 372: 20150490.