Skip to 0 minutes and 21 seconds Hello. I’m Laurence Hurst. I’m the Lead Educator on this programme. I’m standing here today next to the pond at the University of Bath with a large number of different plants and animals surrounding me. But in addition to those, there are many organisms that we can’t see, many too small to see. But what they all have in common is that they are all the product of evolution. But what is evolution? How does evolution happen? And how fast can evolution happen? These are some of the questions of this course. Often, when we think about evolution, you might think about Darwin.
Skip to 1 minute and 2 seconds Our understanding of evolution, however, is now very different and it’s different in no small part because, unlike Darwin, we now understand genetics. Most particularly, we understand DNA and the chemical basis of inheritance, and therefore the chemical basis of the process of evolution. So this course is unusual insomuch as we will start by considering, not Darwin, but by considering genetics. Genetics has informed not only how we understand evolution, but also it has given us new techniques to enable us to understand evolution. Currently, the world of evolution is being transformed by an increase in data, data generated by machines like this. This is a DNA sequencing machine.
Skip to 1 minute and 58 seconds It’s currently estimated that about 90% of all genetic information that we’ve ever known has been accumulated only over the last two years, in no small part because of machines like this. Because of this huge amount of data, we can now ask questions about evolution that were previously unimaginable, and we’re discovering questions that we never even thought to ask about. So it is both concepts and the data that is revolutionising our understanding of evolution, and all of that is centred on our new understanding and data about DNA. We’ve designed the course in no small part for 14 to 16-year-olds to accompany their GCSE courses in biology in the UK context. But it’s not for them and them alone.
Skip to 2 minutes and 52 seconds We’ve also designed it for the teachers, so there are teacher packs to accompany the talks that we will give. But, much more generally, it is for anybody interested in this new genetical view of evolution. The course will start by looking at changes within a species, these mutations increasing or decreasing in frequency. But then we’ll go on to ask different questions, questions about what it is to be a different species, and how new species can form. Moving beyond the questions of how species form, we have questions related to why different groups have different numbers of species within their groups.
Skip to 3 minutes and 32 seconds So, for example, there are over 10,000 species of birds, but the DNA tells us that the closest living relatives of birds are crocodiles, and there’s only a handful of different species of crocodiles. The final topic that we will look at is to look at a species that we find particularly interesting. And that’s to say, us. I hope you enjoy the course, and thank you for watching.