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The University of Southampton

BIOL6090 Evolution and Development

Module Overview

This module will deliver a comprehensive analysis of the topics associated with evolutionary developmental biology. This will involve exploring the theory of evolution; embryology and molecular pathways of development; what the fossil record tells us about development and the timings of emergence of species, body plans and morphological characters; how this can be used to produce trees elucidating evolutionary relationships. This module will link traditional 19th century topics of evolutionary theory and embryology with 21st century insights from phylogenetics, developmental and molecular biology and palaeontology

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aim of this module is to provide students with a research level understanding of various topics in evolutionary developmental biology. ‘Evo-devo' is a discipline that involves tackling subjects including classical evolutionary theory, embryology, palaeontology, molecular biology and phylogenetics. All of these topics will be covered in the course of this module. This will elucidate the relationships of organisms as diverse as jellyfish and chickens, and will develop an understanding of the mechanism of natural selection both at the molecular and organismal level. Students will appreciate how the regulation of gene networks affects phenotype and how this can have micro and macro evolutionary effects. Students will learn about the importance of the fossil record for providing soft minimum and maximum dates for species divergence and appearance of novel morphological characters, and also see what the fossil record of development tells us about the evolution of body plans during the most rapid radiation of forms, the Cambrian Explosion. This module will also provide a broad understanding of development in a number of taxa both vertebrate and invertebrate, from fertilisation to hatching/birth.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Describe the relationship between evolution and development.
  • Outline the approaches used to detect phylogenetic relationships using the range of techniques and tools available.
  • Describe the developmental patterns and function of toolkit genes Hox and Pax6 in model organisms.
  • Describe how gene regulation plays a key role in evolution.
  • Explain the role of gene co-option in evolution eg. Hox in anterior-posterior patterning (ancestral) and its co-option to patterning the tetrapod limb.
  • Describe how signalling molecules contribute to the development of the body plan.
  • Explain how the fossil record allows soft minimum/maximum dates to be applied to species divergence and the appearance of morphological characters


1. Introduction, Darwin to development 2. What is Evo-Devo? 3. Development, cells and molecules 4. Natural populations 5. Mutation and developmental repatterning 6. Heterochrony 7. Heterotopy 8. Heterometry 9. Heterotypy 10. The integrative nature of repatterning 11. Mapping repatterning to trees 12. adaptation, coadaptation and exaptation 13. Developmental bias and constraint 14. Developmental genes and evolution 15. Gene co-option as an evolutionary mechanism 16. Developmental plasticity and evolution 17. The origin of species, novelties and body plans 18. The evolution of complexity 19. Key concepts and connections 20. The future

Special Features

Element of Flip Learning 100% in-course assessment • In-class test 1: Multiple choice test 25 questions + 6 short answer questions (15% MCQ:SA 5:10) • In-class test 2: Multiple choice test 25 questions + 6 short answer questions (15% MCQ:SA 5:10) Course work makes up the remaining 70% of the grade and each component is equally weighted • Students write a 2000 word (absolute limit) essay on a 1 of 2 topics. • Peer review: students review/critique (but not mark/grade) another student’s essay, on the topic that differs from their own essay. (2000 words, absolute limit) • 5 minute video podcast on a contemporary topic in Evo-Devo.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The module is delivered principally via lectures taking their titles from Evolution a developmental approach, by Wallace Arthur (2011), supported by informal discussions with lecturers and independent study of recommended reading material. Lectures will take the title of chapter in the book, which should be read before the lecture (element of flip learning). The lecture will then elaborate on the topic of that chapter, or examine exciting developments in the field around the topic.

Independent Study130
Total study time150



MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 70%
Examination 30%
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