Winter January 2010
Three approaches to molecular phylogenetics are demonstrated to biology students as they explore molecular data from Homo sapiens and four related primates. By analyzing DNA sequences, protein sequences, and chromosomal maps, students are repeatedly challenged to develop hypotheses regarding the ancestry of the five species. Although these exercises were designed to supplement and enhance classroom instruction on phylogeny, cladistics, and systematics in the context of a postsecondary majors-level introductory biology course, the activities themselves require very little prior student exposure to these topics. Thus, they are well suited for students in a wide range of educational levels, including a biology class at the secondary level. In implementing this exercise, we have observed measurable gains, both in student comprehension of molecular phylogeny and in their acceptance of modern evolutionary theory. By engaging students in modern phylogenetic activities, these students better understood how biologists are currently using molecular data to develop a more complete picture of the shared ancestry of all living things.