Biology 399 - History of Life
Course Description


I. Course Overview

This course will attempt to survey the major events in the history of life, from the origin of life some four billion years ago to the extinction and speciation episodes that have resulted in the variety of organisms that have come to occupy the planet in more recent geologic time. Although I have not assigned a textbook for the course, I have supplimented most lecture topics with related reading materials from a variety of web sites. For more information on lecture topics and supplimental reading materials see Biology 399's course syllabus.


II. Reading Assignments

Assigned Books

You are required to read to books for the course: 1) Crucible of Creation by S. C. Morris and 2) Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? by D. Raup. You will be given a quiz over the material in Crucible of Creation on Friday, September 25th. We will also discuss this book in class on that same Friday and during lectures the following week. You will be given a quiz on Raup's book on Wednesday, October 16th. Also, we will discuss the material presented in Extinction for the remainder of that week.

Assigned Articles

There are a number of articles and essay that you will be required to read throughout the course of the semester (see course syllabus for scheduled dates). These reading assignments are intended to reflect on a variety of topics regarding evolution that will not be discussed in class. You are expected to have read and been prepared to discuss these materials for the assigned dates (on a Friday of a selected week). There will be a brief quiz over each assigned reading prior to each discussion. These quizzes will represent 5% of your grade for the course. All articles and essays are on reserve at the circulation desk of the Bower-Suhreinrich Library.

List of Assigned Articles

1. Postscript to Schrodinger: So What is Life? by F. Harold.
2. Human Chauvinism by R. Dawkins and Self-Help for a Hedgehog Stuck on a Molehill by S. Gould.
3. Darwin's Dangerous Idea by D. Dennett and Dennett's Dangerous Idea by A. Orr.
4. Linnaeus's Last Stand by E. Pennisi.
5. Universal parasitism and the co-evolution of extended phenotypes by R. Dawkins.
6. Land Mammals and the Great American Interchange by L. Marshall.
7. Sexual Selection and the Mind: A Talk with Geoffrey Miller with J. Brockman.
8. DNA's Evolutionary Dilemma: Genetic Studies Collide with the Mystery of Human Evolution by B. Bower


III. Web Site Assignment

You will be required to construct a web site relating to some aspect of the history of life. Although the precise nature of the web site is your decision, I would encourage you to focus on any of the following ideas when constructing your site: a particular group of organisms (e.g., trilobites), a certain geological period (e.g., the Cambrian), a particlar pattern (e.g., the sudden disappearance of groups) or process (e.g., global tectonics). Your site should have approximately 6-8 pages of text and must have a reference section. Your web site will most certainly be enhanced by graphs, images, and links to other relevant sites from the World Wide Web. I would strongly recommend that you visit a number of evolution web sites so you can get some ideas as to how you want to go about the process of constructing your own site. Your ideas regarding a possible web site must be discussed and approved by me before you embark on the project. If you have little or no experience in constructing a web site, I will provide you with the necessary instructions. The web assignment is due (criteria forthcoming) on November 22nd. You will also be required to provide the class with a 15-20 minute presentation of your web site on one of the following dates: December 2nd, 4th or 6th. The presentation will count for 5% of your grade for the course. Your site will eventually be linked to the Biology 399 homepage.


IV. Field Trip

I have scheduled a trip to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago for the weekend of November 8-10th. During our visit to the museum, we will explore the Life over Time exhibits which trace the 3.8 billion years of life on Earth. The museum has wonderful dinosaur exhibit, including Sue, the largest, most complete, and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex fossil yet discovered. We will also have an opportunity to meet with one of the Research Associates from the Field Museum, learning more about their extensive fossil collections and how paleobiologists go about addressing questions regarding patterns and processes of the history of life.