Return to ENSIweb Home Page

Teaching Macroevolution and Evo-Devo

Macroevolution: Evolution above the Species Level
In collaboration with BSCS and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) held their third annual Evolution Science and Education Symposium October 14, 2006, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, during the NABT annual conference. The theme was "Macroevolution: Evolution above the Species Level." Click here for a very good introductory text (5 pages, pdf) on this topic.

All handouts were actually done on a CD-Rom, the contents of which are also available online at Eventually, PowerPoint presentations and audio files of the text of the speakers will be made available by the AIBS. Their availability will be posted on that site..

Bringing Evo-Devo to the Classroom: Macroevolution Happening!
This was one of the many evolution sessions during the NABT convention. It was presented by Dr. James Platt. Evo-Devo, one of the key new tools being used to probe macroevolution, is introduced, and some of its experimental results were presented, especially those allowing direct visualization of gene expression patterns, making these powerful indicators of evolution accessible to beginning biology students.

Dr. Platt presented several experimental examples that illustrate the influence of DRGs (Developmental Regulatory Genes), either by over-expression or under-expression. Pictured results were shown, and students were asked to draw inferences, reach conclusions, or form hypotheses, each followed by professional responses and confirmations.

If you would like to see Dr. Platt's PowerPoint (for personal professional growth, and/or possibly for showing to your high school biology students), he has kindly consented to make it available on an individual basis. If you are interested, please email your request, and how you intend to use it, to the ENSI webmaster.

Click Here for the list of References that Dr. Platt provided at his session.

 NEW EVO DEVO LESSON: The Case of the Threespine Stickleback. This lesson, developed by Jim Platt, and adapted to the ENSI format, by the Webmaster, is ready for use as an interactive classroom activity.

Additional Evo-Devo Resources
In addition, I would highly recommend viewing some supplemental material, e.g., the HHMI's Evolution DVD (freely available from HHMI; see review here), and reading Sean Carroll's Endless Forms Most Beautiful. In addition, be sure to get a copy of Science for September 29, 2006, pp. 1907-1927, with three review articles related to evo-devo about the genetics of eye evolution, Hox gene evolution and the evolution and development of the heart.

Don't forget the useful article in the January 2006 American Biology Teacher "Macroevolution: Alive and Well In Sticklebacks" by Dr. Jaames Platt.

Read the excellent article in the NY Times Science section, with recent developments (2007) in Evo Devo. Click HERE to read the review and get the links. Includes a link to an excellent video clip by Sean Carroll, very useful for explaining EvoDevo to students.

See the Evo-Devo page here on the ENSI site, where you will find even more resources, including links to useful books on EvoDevo.

And check out our long list of ENSI lessons for teaching Speciation and Macroevolution.


A FIN is a LIMB is a WING
Read the Evo-Devo Article in the November 2006 National Geographic. See the online version at:
The acclaimed science writer, Carl Zimmer, addresses new understandings in studies of the evolution of complex features, e.g., the eye, limbs, and flowers in an easy-to-read format. You might want to consider copying and pasting it into a Word document and running off copies for your students (about 4 pages).

The online version does not have the nice sketches that the magazine does, but it does have photos of a variety of organisms in the Photo Gallery side bar (that could be used to make a PowerPoint slide show). And in the "Learn More" area, check the link to an interesting essay by Sean Carroll (author of Endless Forms Most Beautiful), or go directly to it at:

Here are some excerpts from the online text of A FIN is a LIMB is a WING
"Scientists are tracing the steps through which evolution forged its successes. They're finding that the same genetic tool kit can build structures both simple and complex."

"The father of evolution was a nervous parent. Few things worried Charles Darwin more than the challenge of explaining how nature's most complex structures, such as the eye, came to be. 'The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder,' he wrote to a friend in 1860."

"Today biologists are beginning to understand the origins of life's complexity-the exquisite optical mechanism of the eye, the masterly engineering of the arm, the architecture of a flower or a feather, the choreography that allows trillions of cells to cooperate in a single organism."

"The fundamental answer is clear: In one way or another, all these wonders evolved. "The basic idea of evolution is so elegant, so beautiful, so simple."

"A limb, a feather, or a flower is a marvel, but not a miracle."

If you develop any kind of interactive lesson or activity that effectively presents the concept, examples and evidence for macroevolution, especially lessons involving Evo-Devo, please share with ENSIWEB, and we will add it to our collection, freely available to teachers everywhere. Send your ideas to the Webmaster.