Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

This course gives advanced knowledge of the scientific progresses of Evolutionary Biology, as well as of patterns, processes and mechanisms of Evolution. In particular, the course starts from a detailed analysis of neodarwinism and punctuated equilibria, and it will indroduce students to some of the modern research frontiers of Evolutionary Biology thereafter (Evo-Devo, Evolutionary genomics, Game theory, etc.).

Course contents

1st MODULE (Passamonti)
Epistemology and Evolutionary Biology. The concept of Scientific Theory. Falsificationism. Occam's Razor.
Introduction to Evolutionary Biology. Applications. Proofs of Evolution. Homology.
Introduction to the Modern Synthesis. Species and species concepts. Reproductive isolation. Sibling species. Ring species. Clines. Models of speciation: allopatric, sympatric, stasipatric. Chromosomal speciation. Speciation by hybridization. Polyploidy, parthenogenesis, hybridogenesis, androgenesis.
Neutral theory. Molecular clock.
The selfish gene.
Punctuated equilibria. Mass extinctions. Burgess fauna.
Macroevolution and macromutations.
Why sex? The evolution of sexual reproduction.
Mitochondrial ecology: mitonuclear interactions, genomic conflixcts and the evolution of the Eukaryotic cell. Mitochondrial Inheritance: rules and exceptions.
The altruism problem. Group selection. Inclusive fitness. Kin selection. Game theory.
Origin and evolution of Life on Earth. Pre-biotic chemistry. The experiment of Miller. The "primordial soup" hypothesis and other hypotheses. The RNA world. First unicellular organisms. Archea. Procariota. Origin of Eukaryothes and the pluricellularity. Origin and evolutionary radiation of the principal animal Phyla.

2nd MODULE (Ghiselli)
Course introduction. Logistics and communications. Definition of genome. Genome elements. General features of genomes. Genomics aims and goals. Genoms size and number of genes.
Evolution of prokaryotic genomes.
Genome size in prokaryotes, relationship between genome size and number of genes. Genomescapes. The operon. Horizontal gene transfer (HGT), the prokaryotic mobilome. Müller's ratchet and HGT relevance in prokaryotes. Pangenome, core-genome, accessory genome. Variation in prokaryotic genome size. The minimal genome, "Non-Orthologous Gene Displacement", the functional content of minimal genomes. "The Bureaucratic Ceiling of Genome Complexity". Fundamental processes of prokaryotic genome evolution.
Evolution of eukaryotic genomes.
The concept of function, evolutionary classification of functionality of genome elements; C value, genome size, increase and decrease of genome size in eukaryotes, genome duplications, transposable elements, deletions; complexity; C-value paradox and possible solutions: selectionist hypotheses, "onion test", genetic load, nucleotypic hypothesis, phenotypic effects of genome size, neutralist hypotheses, selfish DNA hypothesis, mutational hazard hypothesis, effective population size and genome evolution; G-value paradox and possible solutions: "The Swiss-Army Knife Solution", molecular tinkering: suboptimality and gratuitous complexity, "Rube Goldberg Genomes".


Ferraguti M., Castellacci C. Evoluzione, modelli e processi. Pearson.

Douglas J. Futuyma. L'evoluzione. Zanichelli.

Mark Ridley. Evoluzione. La storia della vita e i suoi meccanismi. Ed. McGraw-Hill

Carl Zimmer, Douglas J. Emlem. Evolution. Making Sense of Life, 2nd edition. Robert&Company Publishers (McMillan, in English)

Dan Graur “Molecular and Genome Evolution”, Sinauer Associates (in English).

Teaching methods

During lectures and exercises, open discussions with the teacher will be strongly stimulated.

Assiduous participation to lessons is mandatory, given to the strict concatenation of the arguments.

Assessment methods

The examination, at the end of the course, aims to assess the achievement of the learning objectives:

  • knowledge and understanding of the Theory of Evolution, including its theoretical basis and the most recent developments.
The final score is defined by an oral examination.

Teaching tools

Lectures, with powerpoint presentations and exercises. Powerpoint presentations used during the lessons will be available to students.

Office hours

See the website of Marco Passamonti

See the website of Fabrizio Ghiselli