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In this two-part laboratory lesson students analyze skull morphology and DNA sequences among primate species to answer one of the most meaningful questions in biology: How are humans related to other animals?
two lab periods
The authors use this lab in a sophomore-level course on ecology and evolution that is part of a three-semester introductory biology sequence. This lab is broken into two parts, each designed for a 3-hr lab period and students work in groups of two to four under the guidance of a graduate student teaching assistant.
Author note: "Creativity is required to develop methods to infer phylogeny from skull morphology and DNA sequences. Critical thinking is required when students discover that the phylogeny they reconstruct from DNA sequences does not agree with the phylogeny they reconstruct from skull morphology. This twist to the lab requires students to think deeply about how evolution works. In our experience, most undergraduate students are not prepared to tackle this series of questions without preparation. Therefore, students are given a series of introductory problems in which they learn the skills needed to analyze skulls and DNA sequences."
Correspondence to the Next Generation Science Standards is indicated in parentheses after each relevant concept. See our conceptual framework for details.
- Present-day species evolved from earlier species; the relatedness of organisms is the result of common ancestry.
- There are similarities and differences among fossils and living organisms.
- Similarities among existing organisms (including morphological, developmental, and molecular similarities) reflect common ancestry and provide evidence for evolution.
- The real process of science is complex, iterative, and can take many different paths.