Human Evolution


This semester I am teaching two sections of BIOL 1108L, which is second semester biology lab for science majors. Nearly all of my students are sophomore biology majors. About 80% of my students are female, which is why I stressed on the first day of class that women are just as good as men at science, even though they tend to have a lower opinion of themselves.

The course was redesigned this year to focus on inquiry. A large proportion of the students’ grades are determined by the questions they ask and not the answers they give. To help them get an idea about scientific research, I gave them a paper last week to read and discuss.

Because I am an evolutionary biologist and concerned with scientific literacy, I decided to give my students a paper on human evolution. I figured that something on the fusion in human chromosome 2 would be appropriate. Therefore, I settled on the following paper:

Ijdo JW et al. (1991) Origin of Human Chromosome 2: An Ancestral Telomere-Telomere Fusion. PNAS 88: 9051-9055.

We have identified two allelic genomic cosmids from human chromosome 2, c8.1 and c29B, each containing two inverted arrays of the vertebrate telomeric repeat in a head-to-head arrangement, 5’(TTAGGG)n-(CCCTAA)m3’. Sequences flanking this telomeric repeat are characteristic of present-day human pretelomeres. BAL-31 nuclease experiments with yeast artificial chromosome clones of human telomeres and fluorescence in situ hybridization reveal that sequences flanking these inverted repeats hybridize both to band 2q13 and to different, but overlapping, subsets of human chromosome ends. We conclude that the locus cloned in cosmids c8.1 and c29B is the relic of an ancient telomere-telomere fusion and marks the point at which two ancestral ape chromosomes fused to give rise to human chromosome 2.

This fusion is a wonderful example of human evolution. (In fact, Ken Miller used it in his testimony during ID’s Waterloo.) My students seemed to understand this and even mentioned it in their lab notes. However, the paper, which relies on molecular genetics, isn’t too applicable to the ecological experiments that my students will be doing in lab. Nevertheless, I’d still call it a successful class-room exercise because it exposed my students to some human evolution.


Dr. Cartwright, did any of your students protest of try to get you caught up in the ID rubbish or have people that get as far a 2nd yer college biology all ready purged themselves?

It is a wonderful piece of work.

I only have 40 students and they are all bioscience majors. They’re less likely to be creationists then other groups of students. And the ones that are creationists are probably too afraid of saying anything because the “evil scientist conspiracy” might keep them from being an MD.

Also during the class discussion I actually showed all the students the chromosomal map of the similarities between human and ape chromosomes. So they were able to see what the fuss was about.

I do know that some students in the genetics course last semester got into an argument with one another over evolution.

However, from what I’ve heard, every year for the non majors course there are many students who bitch about evolution on their course evaluations.

PS: I’m not a Dr. yet.

80% Female????? You better be careful Reed! Your wife has monkeys all over campus spying on you!!! ;-)

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This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on February 2, 2006 7:10 PM.

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