Evolutionary Biology - Methods and Applications
The course is given at the end of the spring semester (from 2023). It is mandatory on the MSc programme in Evolutionary Biology. The language of instruction is English.
In this advanced course, you will learn how to reconstruct evolutionary history and test evolutionary hypotheses using a range of data and methods. You will also learn how evolutionary biology can be applied to meet outstanding challenges in medicine, conservation, biotechnology and sustainable development.
Analysing past and present evolutionary patterns and processes requires learning techniques from multiple fields including genomics, molecular and cell biology, development, and ecology. Our teaching promotes active, inquiry-based practical training that takes advantage of the Department’s world-leading research on the evolutionary biology of microbes, plants and animals. The course is structured around four modules that teach how to apply methods to data to infer evolutionary patterns and processes.
Quantifying Phenotypic Variation and Selection
How does natural selection act in the wild and will populations adapt to environmental change? This module will focus on how biologists document and quantify phenotypic variation, natural selection, and adaptive change in natural populations. It will cover the basics of quantitative genetics, and provide practical and theoretical understanding of how statistical tools applied to phenotypic data are used to infer and predict evolutionary change.
Using Genomes to Infer and Explain Evolutionary Change
How are sequence data used to unravel evolutionary patterns and processes? This module teaches basic bioinformatics skills to analyse DNA sequence data. It provides the conceptual training required to reconstruct evolutionary histories of populations and lineages, document selection, and identify the genetic basis of phenotypic divergence. The knowledge and understanding of evolutionary genomics acquired will be implemented by working on an independent project, assisted by teachers and supporting video tutorials.
Comparative Phylogenetic Models
What can contemporary patterns of organismal diversity tell us about past evolutionary processes? This module will focus on how comparative methods make it possible to infer the sequence of evolutionary events and test predictions from evolutionary theory. Emphasis is placed on the use of phylogenetic trees to study adaptive evolution, and what explains differences in diversity across the tree of life. This module will build on the statistical analyses encountered to quantify selection, quantitative genetic and genomic variation, providing a ‘toolbox’ that can be used to address a wide range of evolutionary questions.
Applying Evolutionary Biology
How can evolutionary biology help to solve the problems facing contemporary societies? This module will demonstrate how theoretical and methodological insights from evolutionary biology can be put to use in a broader context. Examples of evolutionary applications include the prevention and treatment of disease, development of sustainable biotechnology, and the conservation and management of natural resources.