Introduction to Evolutionary Biology

Launched March 2021 Updated December 2023 16 lectures
Prof. Scott V. Edwards
Harvard University, USA

Evolutionary biology is a vibrant field the aim of which is nothing less than to explain the diversity of life on earth and the evolutionary forces that have produced it. Modern evolutionary biology emerged out of the fields of genetics, statistics and paleontology, yet it traces its roots to the... read moreseminal works of Charles Darwin. It has core foundations in natural history, taxonomy and animal behavior, but has been invigorated in recent years by breakthroughs in genomics, new phylogenetic methods, and robust theories of the evolution of the phenotype and developmental biology. As a result, evolutionary biology is unusually integrative and addresses questions on many time scales, from one or a few generations back to billions of years in the past.

Evolutionary biology is increasingly important for pressing societal issues including human health, agriculture, disease surveillance, and drug design. Modern population genetics theories, such as coalescent theory, are used to probe the dynamics of cancer. Evolutionary principles guide drug design, antibiotic resistance programs and help combat human pathogens such as HIV. Evolutionary thinking also helps us understand the responses of organisms to our rapidly changing global environment, allowing us in some cases to predict how organisms will respond genetically and phenotypically to changing climate and guiding our approach to developing climate-resistant crops for a growing population. Although this series will gravitate towards “classical” and basic (non-applied) questions in evolutionary biology, it will attempt to capture some of the diverse ways in which applied science is being impacted by evolutionary thinking.

This series is organized with the goal of providing a comprehensive overview of evolutionary biology, addressing diverse theories, time scales, and organismal groups. There is an emphasis throughout on empirical examples and case studies to illustrate specific theories and models; at the same time, the hope is that the rich foundation of theory that makes evolutionary biology distinctive within the biological sciences will shine through.

View the Talks (16 Lectures)