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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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Overview:
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.

Author/Source:
Lents, Nathan, et al

Grade level:
9-12

Time:
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.” Though these activities were developed for the undergraduate level, no advanced quantitative skills or knowledge are necessary and therefore may well be suitable for high school students.

Concepts:
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. (LS4.A)

  • Similarities among existing organisms provide evidence for evolution. (LS4.A)

  • Anatomical similarities of living things reflect common ancestry. (LS4.A)

  • A hallmark of science is exposing ideas to testing. (P3, P4, P6, P7)

  • Scientists test their ideas using multiple lines of evidence. (P6, NOS2)

  • Accepted scientific theories are not tenuous; they must survive rigorous testing and be supported by multiple lines of evidence to be accepted. (NOS2, NOS4)

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

  • Scientists use the similarity of DNA nucleotide sequences to infer the relatedness of taxa. (LS4.A)

  • Scientists use anatomical evidence to infer the relatedness of taxa. (LS4.A)

  • Classification is based on evolutionary relationships.

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

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

  • Scientists may explore many different hypotheses to explain their observations. (P7)

Teacher background:

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