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Basics of Evolutionary Biology

Class at Faculty of Science |


1. Introduction to evolutionary thinking: - What is evolution? - Why is evolution relevant? - Levels of organismal organisation - Heritable variation (evolving molecules, mutation) - Phenotypes - interaction of genes with environment

2. History of evolutionary thinking: - Nature before Darwin - Darwin’s descent with modification - Natural selection - Why “only” a theory? - Ethics, Religion and Evolution - After Darwin - evolutionary Synthesis

3. History of life on earth:- What the rocks say?- Building blocks of life- RNA world and other hypotheses on the origin of life- Genetic code- Major eras of Earth- Major evolutionary innovations

4. Tree of life: - Tree thinking - Phylogeny and taxonomy (relatedness, ancestry, monophylum, paraphylum, polyphylum) - Maximum parsiomony - Traits (apomorphy, plesiomorphy, homology, homoplasy) - Phylogeography - Timing of evolution (coalescence, use of fossils for dating)

5. Ways of change: from drift to natural selection: - From alleles to population genetics - Evolution’s “Null Hypothesis”, neutral variation - Types of natural selection - Beneficial and deleterious mutations - Selection coefficient - Mutation-selection balance - Bottleneck, inbreeding and Founder effects

6. Evolution of genes: - Patterns of selection in time and space - Migration and gene flow - Selecting diversity - Balancing selection (frequency dependent selection, heterozygote advantage) - Gene duplication - Linkage disequilibrium - Genetics of quantitative traits - Genome evolution - Horizontal gene transfer

7. Evolution of phenotypes: - Evolutionarily stable strategy - Selection on the level of individuals - Selfish gene - Conflicts within genomes - Evo-devo8. Adaptation: linking genes to traits: - Molecular evolution (from mutation to protein variant) - Protein evolution - Adaptive landscape - Recognising adaptations - Fit to environment - Evolutionary constraints - Imperfections in complex adaptations - Convergent evolution9. Sex and evolution of life histories: - Why sex? - Red Queen - Non-random mating - Concept of sexual selection (male-male competition, mate choice) - Fisherian runaway selection - Condition-dependent traits and Indicator hypothesis - Cryptic mate choice (extra-pair mating, sperm competition) - Sexual conflict - Meiotic drive10. Speciation: - Concepts of species - Types of speciation (mechanisms of speciation, spatial aspects) - Models of speciation - Incomplete lineage sorting - Speed of speciation - Radiation - Cryptic species - Macroevoution (gradual vs. punctual evolution, biogeography) - Extinctions

11. Coevolution: - Web of life (ecological interactions) - Mutualism - Endosymbiosis - Genomic parasites - Antagonism - Predator-pray models - Selection on diversity - Maladaptation - Host-parasite interaction - Evolutionary medicine

12. Evolution of behaviour:- Behaviour evolves- Sociality- Group selection- Kin selection- Reciprocal altruism- Conflicts and Game theory- Animal cultures and their implications for humans

13. Human Evolution: - Hominin evolution - Human gene evolution - Bottlenecks and recent selection - Evolution of languages - Ageing - Modern life - Repetition of all basic concepts on the example of human evolution - Clarification of concepts based on dialogue with students


Evolutionary biology is currently perceived as a discipline at the basis of all other biological disciplines which offers a meaningful interpretation to the existing heterogeneity of the world around us. In this course, we go through the very basic concepts that are necessary to get insight into evolution of life on Earth.

We start from the reasoning, why is evolutionary theory needed in the present world and science, define principles governing evolutionary processes and moving through all basic aspects of evolution at molecular as well as organismal levels we finally reach the exciting topics of evolutionary interactions across multiple co-evolutionary partners. This course does not require any previous knowledge of the subject from other courses, but given the topic overlap, this course is incongruous with the course Introduction to evolutionary biology, MB170P55.

The course is taught only in English (for the Czech alternative see Introduction to evolutionary biology, MB170P55) and only if at least 5 students are enrolled. In cases of ordered or recommended distance learning, the teaching of this course is realised through online presentations that are subsequently shared with the students through Moodle and/or Google Apps.

The course begins in the week from 2rd October 2023.