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Lesson summary for:
Evolution of human skin color

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Overview:
Students examine evidence for the relationship between UV and melanin in other animals; investigate the genetic basis for constitutive skin color humans; learn to test for natural selection in mouse fur color; investigate how interactions between UV and skin color in humans can affect fitness; and explore data on migrations and gene frequency to show convergent evolution of skin color.

Author/Source:
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Grade level:
13-16

Time:
7-10 50 minute class periods

Teaching tips:
These lessons were developed for AP biology students, but the level of the material is appropriate for college students.

Concepts:
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.

  • There is a fit between organisms and their environments, though not always a perfect fit.

  • An organism's features reflect its evolutionary history.

  • Similarities among existing organisms (including morphological, developmental, and molecular similarities) reflect common ancestry and provide evidence for evolution.

  • Not all similar traits are homologous; some are the result of convergent evolution.

  • Evolution results from natural selection acting upon genetic variation within a population.

  • Natural selection and genetic drift act on the variation that exists in a population.

  • Natural selection acts on phenotype as an expression of genotype.

  • Phenotype is a product of both genotype and the organism’s interactions with the environment.

  • Variation of a character within a population may be discrete or continuous.

  • Continuous characters are generally influenced by many different genes.

  • New heritable traits can result from mutations.

  • Inherited characteristics affect the likelihood of an organism's survival and reproduction.

  • Over time, the proportion of individuals with advantageous characteristics may increase (and the proportion with disadvantageous characteristics may decrease) due to their likelihood of surviving and reproducing.

  • Traits that confer an advantage may persist in the population and are called adaptations.

  • The number of offspring that survive to reproduce successfully is limited by environmental factors.

  • Depending on environmental conditions, inherited characteristics may be advantageous, neutral, or detrimental.

  • An individual’s fitness (or relative fitness) is the contribution that individual makes to the gene pool of the next generation relative to other individuals in the population.

  • An organism’s fitness depends on both its survival and its reproduction.

  • A hallmark of science is exposing ideas to testing.

  • Scientists test their ideas using multiple lines of evidence.

  • Scientists use multiple research methods (experiments, observational research, comparative research, and modeling) to collect data.

  • Scientists can test ideas about events and processes long past, very distant, and not directly observable.

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

Teacher background:

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