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Introduction to Evolutionary Biology

Instructors: Sylvia Cremer (, Beatriz Vicoso (

Teaching Assistants: Ann Kathrin Huylmans (, Sina Metzler (



Target audience
The course is primarily aimed at students with a molecular biology background who are interested in molecular and organismal evolution, but students from other fields are welcome.

We will cover aspects of evolutionary biology, with a focus on evolutionary ecology and genomics. Each week, there will be an introductory lecture, followed by a paper discussion. 
Adaptive and non-adaptive evolution (BV):
Deleterious and beneficial mutations
Origin of new genes and functions 
Evolution of non-coding sequences (BV):
Genome size evolution and complexity
Transposable elements and non-coding RNAs 
Speciation (BV) 
Evolution of sociality and cooperation (SC) 
Sexual selection and the evolution of dimorphic traits (SC)
Host parasite interactions and symbioses (SC)

A basic knowledge of genetics will be useful. 

Every Monday one student presents a paper on a current topic taught in the previous lecture. All other students hand in a short essay on one of the papers.

• 20 minute presentations
• Slides allowed/encouraged
• 1-2 pages long
• should include
1) introduction/background,
2) summary of methods and results
3) critical assessment. For instance:
• Were the conclusions supported by the data?
• Were there flaws in the experimental design/analysis?
• Why is this an important result?
Final Grade
The final grade will be based on students' performance in oral paper presentations and grades of short written essays.


Course Material

Topic 1: Adaptive and non-adaptive evolution
Lecture 1: Deleterious and beneficial mutations Link
Read more: "De novo mutations in human genetic disease" Joris A. Veltman and Han G. Brunner Link
Lecture 2: Origin of new genes and functions Link
Read more: "New genes as drivers of phenotypic evolution" Sidi Chen, Benjamin H. Krinsky and Manyuan Long Link
Papers for presentation/essay: 

Topic 2: Evolution of non-coding sequences
Lecture: Link

Read more: 
Genome Size - Petrov, Dmitri A. "Evolution of genome size: new approaches to an old problem." TRENDS in Genetics 17.1 (2001): 23-28. Link
Transposable Elements - Levin, Henry L., and John V. Moran. "Dynamic interactions between transposable elements and their hosts." Nature Reviews Genetics 12.9 (2011): 615-627. Link
Long Noncoding RNAs - Ulitsky, Igor. "Evolution to the rescue: using comparative genomics to understand long non-coding RNAs." Nature Reviews Genetics 17.10 (2016): 601-614. Link

Topic 3: Speciation

Read more: Evolution, Chapter 18, Douglas J. Futuyma Link 
Papers for presentation/essay: 

Topic 4: Evolution of sociality and cooperation
Read more: 
Papers for presentation/essay:

Topic 5: Sexual selection and the evolution of dimorphic traits
Read more: 
Papers for presentation/essay:

Topic 6: Host parasite interactions and symbioses
Read more: 
Papers for presentation/essay:


  Monday 8h45-10h00 Monday 11h45-12h35 Wednesday 8h45-10h00
Week 1 (Oct 10, 12) Lecture: Topic 1 part 1 Recitation Lecture: Topic 1 part 2
Week 2 (Oct 17, 19) Presentations on topic 1 Recitation Lecture: Topic 2
Week 3 (Oct 24, 26) Presentations on topic 2 Recitation Holiday
Week 4 (Oct 31, Nov 2) Lecture: Topic 3 Recitation Presentations on topic 3
Week 5 (Nov 7, 9)   Recitation  
Week 6 (Nov 14, 16)   Recitation  
Week 7 (Nov 21, 23)   Recitation