Principles of Evolution G23.1069

Important Notices

1/21/01.  Please ensure that you have filled out the student grading card if you are taking this course for credit.

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Course Description

This year, the course will pursue an in-depth analysis of some of the primary literature in a rapidly progressing interdisciplinary field, evolutionary developmental biology.  The major goal of the course is to understand how biological form evolves and how novel forms and functions originate.  In pursuit of this goal, we will see how the tools of systematics, developmental biology and molecular genetics are currently being used to address this question in a variety of model systems and diverse species.  A common theme throughout the course is the notion of homology, arguably one of the most important concepts in all of biology.

After some hands-on work in phylogenetic and evolutionary reconstruction, we will study the role of the Hox mechanism in patterning the anteroposterior axis and how this mechanism has evolved to pattern divergent body plans.  We will explore how homologous developmental mechanisms have been co-opted to form novel structures such as limbs.  We will study how the same dorsoventral patterning mechanism could have resulted in the inverted body plans of vertebrates and arthropods.  We will delve into the evolutionary changes in regulatory gene circuitry that must have occurred in the evolution of nematode reproductive structures.  And we will ask about the evolutionary and developmental changes that have resulted in the diverse floral structures of flowering plants (with a special tour led by a curator of the New York Botanical Gardens).

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Course Information

Course Essentials

  • Course number:  G23.1069
  • Credits:  4
  • Meeting time:  Fridays, 3:30 - 6:30 PM
  • Place:  Room 409 Main Building (to change--watch Notices!) (room 603 Main for computer lab)
  • Prerequisites:  Evolution V23.0058 (or equivalent) or Genetics V23.0030 (or equivalent) or Developmental Biology V23.0026 (or equivalent) AND Permission of the Instructor
  • Required textbook:
    • Carroll, S. B., J. K. Grenier, and S. D. Weatherbee.  2001.  From DNA to diversity:  molecular genetics and the evolution of animal design.  Blackwell Science, Malden, Mass.  ISBN 0-632-04511-6.  [Publisher]
  • Recommended textbooks:
    • Graur, D., and Li, W.-H.  1999.  Fundamentals of molecular evolution, 2nd ed.  Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, Mass.  ISBN 0-87893-266-6.  [Publisher]
    • Raff, R. A.  1996.  The shape of life:  genes, development, and the evolution of animal form.  Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, Ill.  ISBN 0-226-70266-9.  [Publisher]

Student evaluations

  • 50% of the grade is based on the quality of in-class discussion,
  • 50% is based on the quality of a final research proposal paper and presentation (peer-reviewed)


  • David H. A. Fitch, Associate Professor, Department of Biology, New York University
    Web pages:
  • Guest lecturers:
    • Richard Borowsky, Department of Biology, NYU
    • Kenneth Cameron, New York Botanical Gardens
    • Rob Desalle, American Museum of Natural History
    • Claude Desplan, Department of Biology, NYU

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