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Unit information: Tree of Life in 2018/19

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Unit name Tree of Life
Unit code BIOL30004
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Beaumont
Open unit status Not open

BIOL11000 Biology 1A: Diversity of Life, BIOL12000 Biology 1B: Life Processes or BIOL20212 Evolutionary Biology.



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


This course is all about the profound insight into evolution that can be gained by appreciating that the genetic material we see today has been copied, generation by generation, from ancestor to ancestor, down to the Tree of Life that connect all living beings, from humans to bacteria. The aim of this course is to provide a good introduction to genealogies and phylogenies, and how they are used in modern comparative genomics and population genetics. The topics covered in the course include: An introduction to coalescent theory and gene genealogies; The effects of demography, selection, and recombination on genealogies; Insights into human evolution from genomic analysis; The incompatibility between gene-trees and species-trees; Methods of phylogenetic reconstruction; The Tree of Life; Challenges to the Tree of Life; Troubleshooting phylogenies, with examples from major taxa; The Phylogeny of Mammals and the phylogeny of the animals (Metazoa); There will also be a research lecture by a guest speaker.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit the student will have a good understanding of gene
genealogies and phylogenies; how these can be reconstructed from gene
sequence data; and how the various ancestral processes affect variation
between and within species. The student will have improved insights into
evolution, and a deeper knowledge of the relationships of different organisms,
including an improved understanding of human evolution.

Teaching details

3 x 1 hour weekly lectures. Self-directed learning week. Students are expected to spend this time on directed reading of primary literature, the content of which is relevant to the final exam. A revision lecture will take place.

Assessment Details

End of Session exam (100%)

Reading and References

The basic ideas and techniques will be covered by the references below,
which range from more introductory (Barton and Futuyma) to more
specialised (Felsenstein and Hein et al. Example applications will be taken
from research paper
Key reference material will be made available on Blackboard following each
Barton N. (2007) Evolution. Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory Press, New
York. Futuyma D (2013) Evolution. Sinauer, Sunderland MA. Hein, J.,
Schierup, M.H., Wiuf, C. (2005) Gene Genealogies, Variation and Evolution: a
primer in coalescent theory. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Felsenstein, J.
(2004) Inferring Phylogenies. Sinauer, Sunderland MA.