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Unit information: Tree of Life in 2022/23

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing, student choice and timetabling constraints.

Unit name Tree of Life
Unit code BIOL30004
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Beaumont
Open unit status Not open
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School/department School of Biological Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Life Sciences

Unit Information

This course is all about the profound insight into evolution that can be gained by appreciating that the genetic material we see today has been copied, generation by generation, from ancestor to ancestor, down to the Tree of Life that connect all living beings, from humans to bacteria. The aim of this course is to provide a good introduction to genealogies and phylogenies, and how they are used in modern comparative genomics and population genetics. The topics covered in the course include: An introduction to coalescent theory and gene genealogies; The effects of demography, selection, and recombination on genealogies; Insights into human evolution from genomic analysis; The incompatibility between gene-trees and species-trees; Methods of phylogenetic reconstruction; The Tree of Life; Challenges to the Tree of Life; Troubleshooting phylogenies, with examples from major taxa; The Phylogeny of Mammals and the phylogeny of the animals (Metazoa); There will also be a research lecture by a guest speaker.

Your learning on this unit

By the end of the unit the student will have a good understanding of gene
genealogies and phylogenies; how these can be reconstructed from gene
sequence data; and how the various ancestral processes affect variation
between and within species. The student will have improved insights into
evolution, and a deeper knowledge of the relationships of different organisms,
including an improved understanding of human evolution.

How you will learn

Lectures, directed reading, research and/or problem-solving activities; and independent study.

How you will be assessed

Summative written assessment, with one essay question to be selected from a choice of two.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. BIOL30004).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.