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DNA to Darwin: Woolly mammoths and their relatives


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In this case study, the evolutionary relationship of the extinct Woolly mammoth to modern elephants and other species is investigated. Complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences are used for this purpose.

DNA to Darwin

Grade level:

1-2 hours

Teaching tips:
Be sure to test the free software used in this lab before attempting it with students. Some users have reported trouble, while others have had none. The evolutionary concepts addressed here may be a bit simplistic for some undergrads, so instructors may wish to incorporate the extension activities or do additional analyses.

Correspondence to the Next Generation Science Standards is indicated in parentheses after each relevant concept. See our conceptual framework for details.

  • Biological evolution accounts for diversity over long periods of time.

  • Life forms of the past were in some ways very different from living forms of today, but in other ways very similar.

  • Present-day species evolved from earlier species; the relatedness of organisms is the result of common ancestry.

  • Scientists use multiple lines of evidence (including morphological, developmental, and molecular evidence) to infer the relatedness of taxa.

  • Evolutionary trees (i.e., phylogenies or cladograms) portray hypotheses about evolutionary relationships.

Teacher background:

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