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Modern Theories of Evolution

Module titleModern Theories of Evolution
Module codeBIO2093
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Bryony Williams (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” – T. Dobzansky. This module provides an introduction to the basic principles of Darwinian Evolution and explores molecular, genetic and ecological mechanisms underlying evolutionary change. You will learn about process of evolution at the scale of DNA and proteins, all the way up to populations. You will learn how to construct phylogenetic trees and discuss historical controversies regarding different theoretical approaches to studying evolution.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module develops core topics in evolutionary biology, associated molecular evolution and bioinformatics concepts, and quantitative theories. The module provides an introduction to: natural selection and adaptation, patterns of evolutionary change at the molecular level, different models of DNA evolution; phylogenetic analysis of molecular data; quantitative models in evolution including population genetics, kin selection theory, game theory and adaptive dynamics.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Discuss the basic mechanisms by which populations change over time
  • 2. Explain basic concepts in molecular evolution, e.g. the neutral theory, molecular clocks, maximum-likelihood analysis, creating phylogenies based on protein sequences and subsequent analysis of resulting phylogenetic trees
  • 3. Evaluate different theories surrounding the process of evolution and identify appropriate use of evolutionary models

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Describe and evaluate approaches to our understanding of evolutionary biology with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles
  • 5. Describe in some detail essential facts and theory across a subdiscipline of the biosciences
  • 6. Identify critical questions from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 7. With some guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation and enquiry within the biosciences

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Communicate ideas, principles and theories fluently by written means in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 9. Develop, with some guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with valid conclusions
  • 10. Collect and interpret appropriate data, drawing on a range of sources, with limited guidance

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

20 x 1 hour lectures covering: natural selection and adaptation; the neutral theory, genome evolution, phylogenetic analysis of morphological and molecular data, models of molecular evolution; quantitative models of evolution: population genetics, kin selection theory, game theory and adaptive dynamics.

Five, 1-3 hour online practicals covering: Molecular markers, molecular evolution; bioinformatic and phylogenetic methods; quantitative modelling of evolution.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching20Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching15Laboratory practicals
Guided Independent Study47Directed reading – textbook
Guided Independent Study68Directed reading – research papers


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Lecturer and GTA feedback on practicals5 x 1-3 hour practicals1-5, 7Online
MCQ test30 minsAllOnline

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay examination601 hourAllWritten via tutor
MCQ test401 hourAllFeedback via lecturers


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay examinationEssay examinationAllAugust Ref/Def
MCQ testEssay examinationAllAugust Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Freeman and Herron. Evolutionary Analysis 5th Edn; Prentice Hall, ISBN-10: 1292061278
  • Lindell Bromham. An Introduction to Molecular Evolution and Phylogenetics OUP, ISBN: 9780198736363
  • Higgs and Attwood (2005). Bioinformatics and Molecular Evolution. ISBN-13: 978-1-405-0683-2

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • Additional reference material will be provided.

Key words search

Darwinian evolution, molecular, genetic, ecological mechanisms, phylogenetics, evolutionary change, population genetics, adaptive dynamics

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

BIO1334 Genetics or NSC1003 Foundations in Natural Science

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date