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Lesson summary for:
Teaching the Process of Molecular Phylogeny and Systematics: A Multi-Part Inquiry-Based Exercise


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Students explore molecular data from Homo sapiens and four related primates and develop hypotheses regarding the ancestry of these five species by analyzing DNA sequences, protein sequences, and chromosomal maps.

Lents, Nathan, et al

Grade level:

1 to 4 periods

Teaching tips:
This activity, suitable for laboratory, discussion, or any other group work setting, is broken into three parts. Each individual part could be modified, done at different times or stand entirely on its own. The discussion at the end of each activity is critical. “The inquiry-based student activity described herein is a novel approach toward the instruction of the practice of molecular phylogeny and systematics.” The activities are appropriate for introductory biology curriculum, for nonmajors, and even secondary education levels.

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

  • Through billions of years of evolution, life forms have continued to diversify in a branching pattern, from single-celled ancestors to the diversity of life on Earth today.

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

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

  • A hallmark of science is exposing ideas to testing.

  • Scientists test their ideas using multiple lines of evidence.

  • Scientists may explore many different hypotheses to explain their observations.

  • Accepted scientific theories are not tenuous; they must survive rigorous testing and be supported by multiple lines of evidence to be accepted.

  • Our understanding of life through time is based upon multiple lines of evidence.

  • Classification is based on evolutionary relationships.

  • 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.

  • Evolutionary trees (i.e., phylogenies or cladograms) are built from multiple lines of evidence.

Teacher background:

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