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Determining relatedness between species

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Unfortunately I will be unable to take some classes this week, due to commitments inside and out of the school. During Period 5 on Tuesday I would like you to continue with reading and answering the review questions for Chapter 11. Please make sure you understand all the key terms and definitions for this chapter by studying the Quizlet for this Chapter 11 – Determining relatedness between species. The chapter review questions for Chapter 11 are due by Friday 18th August.

The following two weeks we will be working on Chapter 12 – Human change over time (due Friday 1st September). The Quizlet for Chapter 12 -Human change over time needs to be completed.  We will also start studying for the next SAC (Wednesday 6th September) which is a written report assessing the following outcome:

Outcome 1: Analyse evidence for evolutionary change, explain how relatedness between species is determined, and elaborate on the consequences of biological change in human evolution.

Assessment: A report using primary or secondary data. The assessment task may be written or multi-modal. (approximately 50 minutes or not exceeding 1000 words)

You will be using resources from the Australian Museum – Human Evolution website, including the virtual skulls of various  hominoids (all primates), hominids (great apes) and hominims (humans and their ancestors). 

Mutations and Population genetics

We have started Unit 4 by looking at a broad overview of the process of evolution over time – how the fossil record shows that species have changed over time. Embryology and comparative anatomy also provides evidence for evolutionary change. But what are the mechanisms that cause this change? The fundamental unit of phenotypical change is the gene, so in this part of the course we will investigate change at the genetic level.

In this section of Unit 4: Area of Study 1 we will learn about the following:

Population genetics is the study of distributions and changes in allele frequency in a population, as the population is subject to the four main evolutionary processes:

  • Natural selection
  • Genetic Drift
  • Mutation
  • Gene flow (by migration or distribution of pollen and seeds)

Variation between individuals and species and polymorphism: In any normal population there is some variation between individuals – a box of apples may have individual apples that are slightly different sizes and shapes with slightly different colour variations, even when they come from the same tree. So, not all variation is caused by genetic differences. It may be environmental differences that result in the variation – for example, the amount of light, temperature or soil nutrients in the case of plants or the nutrition and experiences provided to animals. Some characteristics , such as height or wing length might show continuous variation, while other characteristics can be clearly separated into different categories (discontinuous variation). An example of discontinuous variation in humans might be the ability to roll one’s tongue – you can either do this or you can’t – there is no blending, or in-between characteristic. Polymorphism occurs when two or more clearly defined phenotypes are present in the population. A classic example is the light and dark coloured morphs of the peppered moth. The ABO blood grouping is an example in human populations.

Inherited variations: We know that the DNA molecule, present in every cell of living organisms, codes for proteins that determine the phenotype of an organism. DNA is passed from one generation to the next through reproduction, which can occur asexually or sexually (with the production of gametes (meiosis) and fusion of sperm and egg). So, families of individuals tend to look more alike than non-related individuals due to these inherited characteristics. This was seen in our work with pedigree trees, showing how genetic diseases can be passed on through several generations.

Mutations – sources of variation: The source of these variations is genetic mutations. Genetic mutations may be spontaneous or may be induced by exposure to mutagenic agents (X-rays and Gamma rays and some chemicals, such as benzene and mustard gas).

Gene pool, gene flow, genetic drift (by chance): The gene pool is the set of all genetic information in a population, while gene flow describes how genes leave and arrive in a population by death and emigration or births and immigration. Genetic drift is the change of gene frequencies due to random sampling.

Polygenes, polygenetic traits: Polygenes are non-allelic genes that together influence a phenotypic trait – often the precise loci of these genes is unknown to biologists. Examples of polygenetic traits in humans are height, weight and skin colour.

Mitochodrial DNA: Mitochondrial DNA is a single, circular strand of DNA found in the mitochondria of eukaryotic cells. In most species, mitochondrial DNA is inherited solely form the mother. In humans, mitochondrial DNA was the first significant part of the human genome to be sequenced.

Founder and bottleneck effects:The founder effect is the lost of genetic variation that occurs when a new population is established by a small group of individuals from a larger population. The people of Easter Island and Pitcairn Island show limited genetic variability (small gene pools) due to this effect. A similar effect is the bottleneck effect, when large numbers of a population are removed, leaving a small gene pool.  As a species, cheetahs have famously low levels of genetic variation. In fact, cheetahs are so closely related to each other that transplanted skin grafts do not evoke an immune response. This can probably be attributed to a population bottleneck they experienced around 10,000 years ago, barely avoiding extinction at the end of the last ice age. However, the situation has worsened in modern times. Habitat encroachment and poaching have further reduce cheetah numbers, consequently snuffing out even more genetic variation and leaving cheetahs even more vulnerable to extinction.


Changes in the genetic make-up of a population

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Good introduction from BBC Earth: How do we know evolution is real?

Evidence for evolution:

Tree of Life Resources:

YouTube Videos:


Unit 4: How does life change and respond to challenges over time?


Area of Study 1: How are species related? 

Outcome 1: “On completion of this unit the student should be able to (1) analyse evidence for evolutionary change, (2) explain how relatedness between species is determined, and (3) elaborate on the consequences of biological change in human evolution.”

Evidence for evolutionary change is abundant in the fossil record, biogeography (distribution of species across the earth), developmental biology and structural morphology. This area of study will allow us to investigate these four types of evidence.

Paleontologists have unearthed a wide range of evidence that provides a record of the change in the number of different species and the particular characteristics of those species over time. The fossil record demonstrates that living organisms first evolved in aquatic environments and gradually moved onto land. After plants had successfully colonized terrestrial habitats and converted a percentage of carbon dioxide into oxygen, animals were able to survive out of the oceans and freshwater environments. Evidence for these changes lies in the relative ages and absolute dating of fossils in different parts of the world.

Other evidence is provided by the similarities between living species – homologous structures in vertebrates, for example – and the similarities in developmental biology among different species. These similarities suggest that living organisms descended from a common ancestor and that species that are more closely related in the family tree have a more recent common ancestor. This evidence is supported by genetic research which confirms evolutionary relationships between species.


Action potential

“Vaccines – a scientific success story” is a well written article that explains how scientists have developed vaccines that have allowed small pox to be eradicated and measles to be restricted to small areas of the world.

The Action potential explained by Bozeman Science.  The distribution of sodium (Na), potassium (K) and chloride (Cl) ions is what changes when a nervous impulse is transmitted along the axon of a neuron.

Cellular Respiration – aerobic and anaerobic


Cellular respiration is necessary to provide energy for cellular processes – repair and maintenance of cells, growth and cell division, active transport of substances across cell membranes and preventing disease.

Week 2: Transport across the plasma membrane

Image result for phagocytosis and pinocytosis

Learning Intention:
“Students will understand the role of different organelles including ribosomes, endoplasmic, reticulum, Golgi apparatus and associated vesicles in the export of a protein product from the cell through exocytosis and cellular engulfment of material by endocytosis.”

Ribosomes translate the messenger RNA into a protein by matching the 3-base pair codon with an anticodon on the transport RNA, allowing the production of a polypeptide. The endoplasmic reticulum allows the transport of polypeptides (protein chains) to the Golgi aparatus, where proteins are collected, packaged and distributed throughout the cell and exported through the cell membrane (exocytosis).

Osmosis is the passive movement of water across a semi-permeable membrane
Diffusion is the natural tendency of particles to move from a higher concentration to a lower concentration. It is a passive process – does not require energy to be expended.
Facilitated diffusion is when a protein channel is required to allow the passive movement of larger molecules through the cell membrane.
Active transport (as opposed to passive transport) means that energy is required for the cell to all transport of substances against the concentration gradient.
Phagocytosis is the movement of solids across a membrane, usually when the cell creates a pocket and engulfs the nutrient.
Pinocytosis is the movement of liquids across a membrane, for example, when a Paramecium expels liquid waste water.
Endocytosis is when substances move into the cell.
Exocytosis is when substances move out of the cell.

Week 1: Fluid mosaic model of the cell membrane

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Which molecules can move through the cell membrane passively (by diffusion)?

Which molecules can move through the cell membrane by active transport (requiring energy)?

Which molecules cannot pass through the cell membrane?

Human Evolution

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One of the earliest defining human traits, bipedalism — the ability to walk on two legs — evolved over 4 million years ago. Other important human characteristics — such as a large and complex brain, the ability to make and use tools, and the capacity for language — developed more recently. Many advanced traits — including complex symbolic expression, art, and elaborate cultural diversity — emerged mainly during the past 100,000 years.

Since Darwin first proposed that humans and apes had a common ancestor, our understanding of human evolution has improved due to fossil finds, analysis of our closest living and extinct relatives, studies of geographic distribution and DNA analysis. Although the image above is often used to represent human evolution, the process is not the simple linear procession that is shown. Your task is to write an essay of at least eight paragraphs that explains why this image is suitable, but also why it is an inaccurate representation of human evolution.

  • Introduction – what will the following paragraphs explain?
  • Outline primate family tree, including lemurs, monkeys, apes, hominins and Homo sapiens.
  • Where do Australopithecus sp., Homo erectus, Homo habilis, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo heidelbergensis fit in?
  • Discuss bipedalism – location of foramen magnum, shape of spine  and ratio of arm to body length.
  • Discuss skull shape, brow ridges, sagittal and nuchal crests, prognathous jaw and facial sloping.
  • Discuss cranial capacity and relationship to body mass and intelligence.
  • What is the evidence that human evolution is not a linear progression, but a many-branched family tree?
  • Conclusion – what are the main characteristics that can be identified in the image and why is the image an inaccurate representation of human evolution.

Introduction to Human Evolution from the Smithsonian 

7 Strange and Surprising ways that humans have evolved recently