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Resource library Teaching materials Evolution 101

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Natural selection


Interview: Douglas Futuyma on natural selection  Advanced
This interview with one of the most influential evolutionary biologists of today addresses many aspects of natural selection: how it works, examples, misconceptions, and implications.
This article appears at ActionBioscience.org.

Fire ants invade and evolve  Advanced
Understanding the evolution of fire ants may help scientists control the spread of these pests, which have already taken over much of the U.S.

Natural selection: The basics
Darwin's most famous idea, natural selection, explains much of the diversity of life. Learn how it works, explore examples, and find out how to avoid misconceptions.
This article is located within Evolution 101.

Comic strip: Survival of the sneakiest  Great for students
This comic follows the efforts of a male cricket as he tries to attract a mate, and in the process, debunks common myths about what it means to be evolutionarily "fit."

Darwin and Wallace: Natural selection
Darwin and Wallace came up with the idea of natural selection, but their idea of how evolution occurs was not without predecessors.
This article is located within History of Evolutionary Thought.

Adaptation: The case of penguins
The process of natural selection produces stunning adaptations. Learn about the history of this concept, while you explore the incredible adaptations that penguins have evolved, allowing them to survive and reproduce in a climate that reaches -60°C!
This article appears at Visionlearning.

Webcast: Endless forms most beautiful
In lecture one of a four part series, evolutionary biologist Sean Carroll discusses Darwin and his two most important ideas: natural selection and common ancestry.
This lecture is available from Howard Hughes' BioInteractive website.

From the origin of life to the future of biotech: The work of Andy Ellington
This research profile examines how scientist Andy Ellington has co-opted the power of artificial selection to construct new, useful molecules in his lab. The results of his work could help protect us from terrorist attacks and fight HIV and cancer.

Misconceptions about natural selection and adaptation
Natural selection is often misconstrued as a process that perfects organisms and provides them with exactly what they need. Find out the truth.

Evo in the news: Conserving the kakapo
This news brief, from April 2006, chronicles how researchers are using evolutionary theory to guide their strategies for conserving a critically endangered parrot - with some impressive results!

Evo in the news: Warming to evolution
Global warming increasingly affects many aspects of our environment, from the sea level to tropical storm strength. But that's far from the full story. This news brief from July 2006 describes how global warming has already begun to affect the evolution of several species on Earth.

Angling for evolutionary answers: The work of David O. Conover
Human activity has certainly affected our physical environment - but it is also changing the course of evolution. This research profile follows scientist David O. Conover as he investigates the impact of our fishing practices on fish evolution and discovers what happened to the big ones that got away.

Evo in the news: Quick evolution leads to quiet crickets
The tropical island of Kauai has always been a quiet place, but now it may be getting even more quiet. This news brief, from December 2006, reveals how Kauai's cricket population has evolved into a "chirpless" variety in just a few years.

The genes that lie beneath: The work of Leslea Hlusko
Evolutionary biologist Leslea Hlusko’s research takes her from the deserts of Ethiopia, where she hunts for hominid and primate fossils, to a baboon colony in San Antonio where she takes thousands of measurements of the primates' imposing canines. This research profile describes how the two projects are linked by a hunt for genetic variation, a key component of natural selection.

Evo in the news: Seeing the tree for the twigs  Advanced
Recent research has revealed that, in at least some ways, chimpanzees have evolved more than humans have. This news brief from May 2007 delves into this finding further and, in the process, debunks common misperceptions of human evolution.

Evo in the news: Another perspective on cancer
This news brief, from October of 2007, describes the evolutionary underpinnings of cancer. Recognizing cancer as a form of cellular evolution helps explain why a cure remains elusive and points the way toward new treatments.

Evo in the news: Evolution in the fast lane?  Advanced
Have humans, with all of our technological advances, exempted ourselves from further evolution? Perhaps not. This news brief, from February 2008, examines genetic research which suggests that human evolution may haved actually accelerated in our recent history.

Evo in the news: Evolution's dating and mating game
This news brief from May of 2008 describes new research on octopus mating and reveals how evolution can favor some surprising courtship behaviors.

A look at linguistic evolution  Advanced
We typically think of evolution occurring within populations of organisms. But in fact, evolutionary concepts can be applied even beyond the biological world. Any system that has variation, differential reproduction, and some form of inheritance will evolve if given enough time. Find out how an understanding of evolution can illuminate the field of linguistics.
This article appears at SpringerLink.

Evo in the news: Evolution down under
This news brief, from September of 2008, describes an unusual contagious cancer currently decimating Tasmanian devil populations. Learn about the fascinating interplay between the evolution of the devils and the evolution of the disease.

Evo in the news: Sex, speciation, and fishy physics  Advanced
More than 500 species of cichlid fish inhabit Africa's Lake Victoria. This news brief from March 2009 explains new research suggesting that the physics of light may have played an important role in cichlid diversification and in the recent drop in their diversity.

Evo in the news: Better biofuels through evolution
This news brief from April 2009 describes how synthetic biologists are using the process of directed evolution to improve the efficiency of biofuel production.

15 evolutionary gems
This succinct briefing describes 15 examples drawn from recent research that demonstrate evolutionary theory’s power to explain natural phenomena, along with some of their supporting lines of evidence--from whale fossils to the latest in genetics.
This resource is available from Nature magazine.

A fin is a limb is a wing
New research reveals that evolution has repeatedly relied on a genetic tool kit to build both simple and complex structures.
This article appears at the National Geographic website.

Battling bacterial evolution: The work of Carl Bergstrom
This research profile examines how the scientist Carl Bergstrom uses computer modeling to understand and control the evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria in hospitals.

Biological warfare and the coevolutionary arms race  Advanced
The rough-skinned newt looks harmless enough but is, in fact, packed full of one of the most potent neurotoxins known to man. Find out how an evolutionary arms race has pushed these mild-mannered critters to the extremes of toxicity and how evolutionary biologists have unraveled their fascinating story.

This website, which was produced to accompany an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, describes Darwin's life and how his ideas transformed our understanding of the living world.
This article appears on the American Museum of Natural History website.

Evo in the news: Evolving altitude aptitude
This news brief from October 2010 examines new research that makes it clear that Tibetan highlanders have not just acclimated to their mountain home; evolutionary adaptations have equipped them with unique physiological mechanisms for dealing with low oxygen levels.

Evo in the news: Toxic river means rapid evolution for one fish species
This news brief from March 2011 examines the genetic basis for the evolution of resistance to PCBs in the Hudson River tomcod. Though this is great for the tomcod, what might it mean for other organisms in the ecosystem?

Evo in the news: Bed bugs bite back thanks to evolution
This news brief of September 2010 examines the resurgence of bed bugs throughout the country, and the real bad news is that those bed bugs have evolved resistance to the chemicals most commonly used for eradication.

The Making of the Fittest: Natural Selection and Adaption  Great for students
This 10-minute film describes the research of Dr. Michael Nachman and colleagues, whose work in the field and in the lab has documented and quantified physical and genetic evolutionary changes in rock pocket mouse populations.

Variability and Selection in Natural Populations of Wood Lice
In this lab, students measure the amount of variation in a natural population of terrestrial wood lice and then determine which traits are subject to selection by predators by performing a simulated predation experiment.

Selection and evolution with a deck of cards
This classroom exercise introduces the concept of evolution by natural selection in a hypothesis-driven, experimental fashion, using a deck of cards.

Inducing Evolution in Bean Beetles
In this lab, students design and conduct experiments to evaluate whether evolution by natural selection (or alternatively, genetic drift) may be induced in laboratory populations.

Mouse fur color
This case study in the form of a set of PowerPoint slides examines the evolution of light fur in beach mice from the molecular level up to the population genetics level.

The Making of the Fittest: Natural Selection in Humans  Great for students
This 14-minute film describes the connection between the infectious parasitic disease malaria and the genetic disease sickle cell anemia - one of the best-understood examples of natural selection in humans.

The Making of the Fittest: The Birth and Death of Genes  Great for students
This 13-minute film describes how scientists have pieced together the evolutionary history of the Antarctic icefish by studying its genome – an excellent case study for genetic evolution as both the gain and loss of genes have led to key adaptations.

High altitude adaptations: The work of Emilia Huerta-Sánchez  Advanced
This research profile follows statistician and population geneticist Emilia Huerta-Sánchez as she studies the adaptations that allow Tibetan highlanders to live 13,000 feet above sea level without developing altitude sickness.

Ornamentation in birds
In this investigation students explore the connection between competition for mates and the evolution of elaborate traits in birds. Using the online database Birds of North America , students develop and test a set of hypotheses to explain the variation in sexual dimorphism among bird species.

Evo in the News: Acidic oceans prompt evolution  Advanced
This news brief, from October 2012, describes new research into the evolutionary response that ocean acidification may prompt in some plankton species.

Evo in the News: Grasshoppers change their tune. Is it evolution in action?  Advanced
This news brief, from December 2012, describes new research into how traffic noise affects insect populations. Several hypotheses to explain the change in grasshoppers' songs are examined.

Juego evolutivo de citas y apareamiento
Largamente asumidos como solitarios, al menos una especie de pulpo lleva una compleja vida amorosa. El mes pasado, los biólogos Christine Huffard, Roy Caldwell y Farnis Boneka reportaron los resultados de los primeros estudios a largo plazo sobre el comportamiento de apareamiento de pulpos en la naturaleza...

Sexo, especiación y física subacuática  Advanced
Evolución en las noticias relata una reciente historia que señala como comprender física básica puede revelar como la evolución esta ocurriendo hoy — en especial, como la física de la luz tiene influencia sobre la selección sexual, especiación y el colapso de la biodiversidad, producto de la polución causada por los humanos...

Mejores biocombustibles gracias a la evolución
Actualmente, la mayoría de nosotros llenamos nuestro tanque de gasolina con combustibles fósiles, es decir, restos de plantas y animales que murieron muchos millones de años atrás y eventualmente se convirtieron en petróleo — pero, por supuesto, esto no puede perdurar para siempre. El petróleo es un recurso limitado y en algún momento se va a terminar. Para ayudar a solucionar este problema, muchos científicos, políticos, gente de negocios y ciudadanos preocupados han puesto sus esperanzas en los biocombustibles...

Las chinches de cama pican de nuevo gracias a la evolución
Las chinches de cama puede parecer un viejo problema pasado de moda, sin embargo ahora están de vuelta — y con venganza. Hace cincuenta años, estas plagas chupadoras de sangre estaban casi erradicadas en los Estados Unidos gracias, en parte, al uso de pesticidas como el DDT. Hoy, se arrastran entre las sabanas — y atormentan a los desgraciados soñadores — en todo el país...

Evo in the news: Bad at estimating? Blame evolution
Scientists have long noted the universality of the size-weight illusion and formulated different hypotheses to explain it. Now new research suggests that this error may actually be an adaptation with roots in an important but sometimes overlooked aspect of human evolution: throwing skill.

¿Eres un mal estimador? La culpa es de la evolución
La próxima vez que estés en la cocina, prueba este experimento: toma una caja de manteca en una mano y una caja de galletas saladas en tu otra mano. ¿Cuál es más pesada? Si dijiste la manteca, no estás solo. La mayoría de las personas identifica la caja de manteca como el objeto mas pesado — a pesar de que si miras la etiqueta ¡verás que ambas pesan exactamente una libra! ¿Por qué ocurre esto?

Evo in the news: Antibiotic resistant bacteria at the meat counter
This news brief from May 2013 describes research showing that a large percentage of the meat in supermarkets is contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria. An evolutionary perspective explains how antibiotic resistance arises in the first place and why the prevalence of resistant bugs in livestock has health professionals and scientists worried.