BIO3041 : Molecular Evolution and Systematics

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module provides a theoretical basis and practical understanding of molecular evolution, enabling students to ‘speak the language’ of modern genomic biology and undertake basic research to generate, access, manipulate and analyse molecular genetic data to address the systematics and phylogenetic relationships of organisms across the tree of life.

Outline Of Syllabus

1. Introduction: how has the molecular revolution changed our views of evolution and approaches to systematics and phylogeny
2. The molecular basis of biology and evolution
3. The molecular basis of biology and evolution
4. Allele dynamics and populations
5. Allele dynamics and populations 2
6. DNA and amino acid sequence evolution
7. DNA and amino acid sequence evolution 2
8. DNA and protein sequencing technologies, applications and experimental design considerations
9. DNA and protein sequencing technologies, applications and experimental design considerations
10. Rates and patterns of molecular evolution 1: Rates of mutation and nucleotide substitution, causes of variation, patterns of substitution and replacement
11. Rates and patterns of molecular evolution
12. Molecular phylogenetics and tree construction
13. Molecular phylogenetics and tree construction 2
14. Reticulate evolution and examples of phylogenetic networks: tree of life, origins of archaebacteria and eukaryotes, domains of life
15. Evolution by DNA duplication: Mechanisms and rates of duplication, gene families and multigene families, concerted evolution, gene and genome duplication
16. Evolution by ‘molecular tinkering’
17. Mobile elements in evolution: Mobile and transposable elements, LINEs and SINEs, retrosequences and retroelements, horizontal gene transfer in prokaryotes and eukaryotes, ‘promiscuous’ DNA
18.       Prokaryote genome evolution: Evolution of prokaryote genome size, genome miniaturization, the ‘minimal genome’, aspects of GC content, chromosomal evolution in prokaryotes, gene order evolution, the emergence of non-u

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture201:0020:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion12:002:00Written examination
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical13:003:00Assessed computer lab
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical13:003:00Wet lab practical
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical17:007:00Field collection and lab analysis of freshwater insect communities
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading202:0040:00Directed reading
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops51:005:00Feedback sessions - practical exercises and review of assessments
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study53:0015:00Preparation and reflection relating to formative assessments
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study201:0020:00Lecture follow-up
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study63:0018:00Practical preparation and reflection
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study212:0042:00Study of lectures, ReCap, Blackboard etc.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study53:0015:00Self-study computer-based practical (formative assessments)
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study200:3010:00Exam revision
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Twenty lectures provide the fundamental knowledge of the molecular basis of evolution and a broad awareness of the applications of modern analysis methods including next-generation sequencing. The skills to acquire, manipulate, analyse and present molecular sequence data are developed via 5 self-study guided computer practicals linked to relevant parts of the lecture course. Formative assessment for each practical is used to reinforce learning, along with feedback seminars to guide students in the generic application of the techniques and to help resolve difficulties. A practical laboratory session introduces DNA extraction and PCR for phylogenetics analysis, using samples collected and identified from the field using morphological characters. Sequence data obtained in the laboratory are subject to phylogenetics analysis in a 3-h assessed computer practical.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination1201A70N/A
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Computer assessment1M30Assessed computer practical
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Practical/lab report1MSelf-guided practical reports
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

A written examination tests knowledge of the principles and practices of molecular evolution and genomics technologies, as well as the ability to interpret the literature in this field. The skills to acquire, manipulate, analyse and present molecular sequence data are tested by means of an assessed computer laboratory report undertaking a phylogenetics analysis on the organisms sequenced as part of the laboratory practical. The practical assessment includes elements of data acquisition from online databases, sequence alignment and phylogenetic tree construction, as well as assessment of the interpretation and presentation of information.

Study Abroad students may request to take their exam before the semester 1 exam period, in which case the format of the paper may differ from that shown in the MOF. Study Abroad students should contact the school to discuss this.

Reading Lists