Genetics and Evolution

The details
Life Sciences (School of)
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 4
Thursday 05 October 2023
Friday 15 December 2023
01 August 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BSC C700 Biochemistry,
BSC C701 Biochemistry (Including Placement Year),
BSC C703 Biochemistry (Including Year Abroad),
BSC CR00 Biochemistry (Including Foundation Year),
BSC C100 Biological Sciences,
BSC C101 Biological Sciences (Including Year Abroad),
BSC C102 Biological Sciences (Including Placement Year),
BSC CD00 Biological Sciences (Including Foundation Year),
BSC B990 Biomedical Science,
BSC B991 Applied Biomedical Science (NHS placement),
BSC B995 Biomedical Science (Including Year Abroad),
BSC B999 Biomedical Science (Including Placement Year),
BSC BD00 Biomedical Science (Including Foundation Year),
MSCIB099 Biomedical Science,
MSCIBA99 Biomedical Science (Including Placement Year),
MSCIBB99 Biomedical Science (Including Year Abroad),
BSC C520 Ecology and Environmental Biology,
BSC C521 Ecology and Environmental Biology (Including Foundation Year),
BSC C522 Ecology and Environmental Biology (Including Year Abroad),
BSC C523 Ecology and Environmental Biology (Including Placement Year),
BSC C400 Genetics,
BSC C402 Genetics (Including Year Abroad),
BSC C403 Genetics (Including Placement Year),
BSC CK00 Genetics (Including Foundation Year),
BSC C161 Marine Biology (Including Foundation Year),
BSC C164 Marine Biology,
BSC CC60 Marine Biology (Including Year Abroad),
BSC CC64 Marine Biology (Including Placement Year),
BSC C200 Human Biology,
BSC C201 Human Biology (Including Year Abroad),
BSC C202 Human Biology (Including Placement Year),
BSC C220 Human Biology (Including Foundation Year),
MSCIC098 Biochemistry and Biotechnology (Including Year Abroad),
MSCIC099 Biochemistry and Biotechnology (Including Placement Year),
MSCICZ99 Biochemistry and Biotechnology,
MSCIB097 Tropical Marine Biology,
MSCIBA97 Tropical Marine Biology (Including Placement Year),
MSCIBB97 Tropical Marine Biology (Including Year Abroad),
BSC C510 Global Sustainability,
BSC C511 Global Sustainability (Including Foundation Year),
BSC C512 Global Sustainability (including Year Abroad),
BSC C513 Global Sustainability (including Placement Year),
BSC C555 Microbiology,
BSC C556 Microbiology (Including Foundation Year),
BSC C557 Microbiology (Including Year Abroad),
BSC C558 Microbiology (Including Placement Year),
MSCIC559 Microbiology and Biotechnology

Module description

This module will provide an introduction to the study of genetics and evolution.

Module aims

The aim of this module is:

  • To provide an introduction to the study of genetics and evolution.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:


  1. Describe how natural selection can explain adaptation (in the context of inherited variation and over-production of offspring, with limited resources).

  2. Describe examples of natural selection acting as the mechanism for evolution (Galápagos finches and drug resistance).

  3. Describe how evolutionary theory can explain observations of the fossil record, anatomical and molecular homologies and biogeography.

  4. Describe the differences between homology, analogy and homoplasy.

  5. Explain how phylogenies can be constructed using morphological and molecular characters.

  6. Describe informatic algorithms to compare sequences (nucleic acids and proteins).

  7. Explain how genomes contain evidence of their evolutionary history.

  8. Explain how population genetics allows us to understand how evolution can act at the level of the gene in populations.

  9. Explain what is meant by the gene pool and how the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium model can be applied to calculate allele frequencies in populations.

  10. Identify and explain the assumptions underlying the Hardy-Weinberg model.

  11. Calculate allele frequencies and expected genotype frequencies from a sample of observed genotype frequencies.

  12. Explain how mutation and sexual reproduction lead to variation in the gene pool.

  13. Define the terms random genetic drift and gene flow.

  14. Explain how the three key factors of natural selection, genetic drift and gene flow contribute to evolution.

  15. Identify and describe the differences between directional, stabilising and disruptive selection and describe an example of each.

  16. Explain the meaning of natural selection, in relation to the phrase "survival of the fittest" and to the idea of differential transmission of alleles.

  17. Explain how heterozygote advantage and frequency dependent selection can maintain unfavourable alleles in populations.

  18. Explain the meaning and evolutionary outcomes of sexual selection, including intrasexual selection and intersexual selection.

  19. Describe the biological species definition and explain some limitations of the biological species definition in practice.

  20. Identify the different types of reproductive isolating mechanisms and describe examples of each.

  21. Identify the key features of allopatric and sympatric speciation and explain each process.

  22. Explain the key features of a hybrid zone and its possible outcomes with regard to the process of speciation, including reinforcement, fusion or stability.

  23. Describe how genes control the body plans of animals and plants.

  24. Explain the conservation of genes controlling body plans and how small changes in these genes can lead to striking variation in form.


  1. Draw diagrams to show the segregation of chromosomes during all the stages of meiotic cell division.

  2. Explain the differences between meiosis and mitosis.

  3. Explain the importance of random assortment and crossing over in relation to inheritance.

  4. Explain how the normal karyotype is maintained during sexual reproduction.

  5. Describe the effects of errors in meiosis on the karyotype (aneuploidy and polyploidy).

  6. Define the terms used in describing Mendelian inheritance.

  7. State Mendel’s Laws and apply these to predict the outcome of single and two factor crosses.

  8. Explain the nature of dominance and recessiveness.

  9. Describe the multiple alleles of the ABO blood group system.

  10. Explain the basis of genetic linkage and the consequences of crossing-over for linked genes (recombination).

  11. Construct a simple genetic map using the data from experimental crosses and explain why this may not correspond exactly to the physical map.

  12. Explain the basis of sex-linkage and the inheritance of sex-linked genes.

  13. Describe how X-inactivation occurs in mammals.

  14. Describe sex determination in humans and fruit flies.

  15. Explain how the relationship between genotype and phenotype can be complicated by interactions between genes (e.g. epistasis) and by the environment (e.g. temperature sensitive mutations).

  16. Explain the inheritance of quantitative or polygenic traits and the influence of the environment.

Molecular Biology

  1. Molecular basis of heredity and mutation.

  2. Describe the structure of the key macromolecules involved in the storage, replication and expression of genetic information: DNA, RNA and proteins.

  3. Explain the experimental evidence for DNA as the genetic material.

  4. Describe the key features of the genetic code including the start and stop codons.

  5. Explain the effects of single base mutations: silent, missense and nonsense mutations; reading frames and frameshift mutations.

  6. Explain the evidence for semi-conservative DNA replication.

  7. Describe the events that take place at the replication fork and the components involved.

  8. Explain the differences in the synthesis of the leading and lagging strands.

  9. Describe how mutagens cause damage to DNA and the mechanisms used to repair the damage.

  10. Describe how mutations and gene function can lead to heredity patterns.

Gene expression and its control.

  1. Describe the process of RNA synthesis (transcription) and explain why gene expression is regulated.

  2. Explain the control of the E. coli lac operon by the repressor protein and the operator and promoter sequences.

  3. List some additional eukaryotic mechanisms for regulating expression.

  4. Describe the events which take place at the ribosome during protein synthesis (initiation, elongation and termination).

  5. Explain the role of tRNAs and aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases in protein synthesis.

DNA based techniques

  1. Describe the methods of gel electrophoresis and blotting (Southern and northern).

  2. Explain the use of DNA hybridisation in detecting nucleic acids.

  3. Describe the method of bacterial plasmid-based gene cloning.

  4. Describe the molecular tools (restriction enzymes and DNA ligase) used in this work.

  5. Explain the methods used to construct libraries of gene sequences.

  6. Describe the map-based and shotgun approaches to DNA sequencing.

  7. Explain how synthesis-based sequencing methods work and contrast them with other approaches to sequencing describe how high-throughput sequencing can be applied in research and industry.

  8. Describe the techniques of PCR and DNA fingerprinting.

  9. Explain how PCR and fingerprinting can be applied in forensics, medicine and population genetics.

  10. Describe the steps involved in making a transgenic plant.

  11. Describe the process of animal cloning.

  12. Describe some applications for gene cloning and gene editing in biotechnology and medicine, and explain some of the environmental and social issues relating to the ethics of gene technologies.

Genome biology primer

  1. Describe the variation in genome size and gene number in genetic model organisms.

  2. Describe the goals of the human genome project and be aware of some of the resources and applications developing from it.


  1. Carry out the practical work and coursework associated with this course.

  2. Carry out a BLAST search and determine a phylogeny using open access online bioinformatics tools.

  3. Extract DNA at a quality suitable for basic downstream applications, such as genome sequencing.

  4. Describe the techniques used for purifying and separating nucleic acids.

  5. Describe how Nanopore sequencing identifies individual bases.

  6. Carry out a restriction enzyme digest and construct a restriction enzyme map.

Module information

Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution". This quote from evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky sums up the importance of understanding evolution, and how genetic information is transmitted.

This module will also look at genetic variation and genes in populations and consider the role of natural selection in adaptive evolution, followed by mechanisms of speciation and adaptive radiation. This brings us up to date with recent studies of phylogenetics and the evolution of genes and genomes, together with the history of all organisms.

The module then moves on to the structure and function of DNA and the expression of the information contained in the genome. This is followed by modern methods in gene cloning and the applications of this technology. Finally, we move on to the transmission of genetic information from one generation to the next by the process of cell division and the principles of Mendelian inheritance.

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • One 1-hour lecture per week.
  • One 1-hour lecture on directed learning material.
  • One revision class before the MCQ exam.
  • One revision class before the summer exam.
  • Two 3-hour practical sessions.


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Moodle Worksheet 2    65% 
Practical   Moodle Worksheet 1    35% 
Exam  MCQ exam: In-Person, Closed Book, 50 minutes during January 
Exam  Main exam: In-Person, Closed Book, 60 minutes during Summer (Main Period) 
Exam  Reassessment Main exam: In-Person, Closed Book, 60 minutes during September (Reassessment Period) 
Exam  Reassessment MCQ exam: In-Person, Closed Book, 50 minutes during September (Reassessment Period) 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
33% 67%


Coursework Exam
33% 67%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Benjamin Skinner, email:
Dr Jen Hoyal-Cuthill, Dr Ben Skinner, De Navascues, Joaquin
School Undergraduate Office, email: bsugoffice (Non essex users should add to create the full email address)



External examiner

Prof Jacqueline McCormack
Institute Technology Sligo
Vice President
Available via Moodle
Of 87 hours, 33 (37.9%) hours available to students:
54 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information
Life Sciences (School of)

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