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GENE312 Evolutionary Genetics

Theoretical and molecular population genetics. Evolution of genes and proteins and molecular aspects of biodiversity. Molecular evolutionary genetics of hominids. Molecular phylogenetics and phylogeography. Comparative genomics.

This 18 -point 300-level paper is designed for students majoring in the biological sciences. Most of our students are Genetics majors, but the paper is relevant to those reading Anthropology, Biochemistry, Botany, Ecology, Law, Mathematics, Microbiology and Zoology. The central focus of the paper is the underlying genetic basis of population differentiation, adaptation and evolutionary change. The paper emphasises principles in population and evolutionary genetics, which are crucial to interpretation of genomic data.

Paper title Evolutionary Genetics
Paper code GENE312
Subject Genetics
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Semester 2 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,092.15
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $5,314.50

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Two of GENE 221, GENE 222, ZOOL 222
Schedule C
In approved cases, another 200-level biological sciences paper may be substituted for one of GENE221, GENE222, ZOOL222.
The formal prerequisites are TWO of GENE 221, GENE 222 and ZOOL 222. However, we are keen to attract good students from diverse backgrounds, so good performance in 200-level papers across the sciences will be considered as alternatives.

Teaching staff

Co-convenor: Professor Jon Waters (Department of Zoology) & Dr Matt Larcombe (Department of Botany)
Other Teaching staff: Dr David Orlovich (Department of Botany)
Professor Iain Lamont (Department of Biochemistry)
Dr Nic Rawlence (Department of Zoology)
Associate Professor Michael Knapp (Department of Anatomy).

Paper Structure

The lecture course comprises 8 topics:

  • Polymorphism, neutral theory, selection, drift, molecular evolution, molecular basis of adaptation and speciation
  • Evolution of hominoids and hominids, human phylogeography and hybridisation
  • Genome evolution
  • Biodiversity and Phylogenetics
  • mtDNA, ancient DNA, population demographics, phylogeny, conservation, ancestry testing
  • Genetics and evolution of sex determination

The lecture course is complemented by four formal lab classes. Students then develop a group research project, including the following phases: proposal, literature review, data collection, data analysis, written and oral reporting.

Teaching Arrangements
There are six weeks of laboratory classes. Students then carry out their research projects, in teams, over the remainder of the paper.

The recommended text books for GENE 312 are:

Allendorf, FW et al 2013 Conservation and the Genetics of Populations (2nd edn). Wiley-Blackwell.

Graur, D 2016. Molecular and Genome Evolution. Sinauer.

GENE 312 also makes extensive use of reviews and original papers from the scientific literature.

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Lifelong learning, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Environmental literacy, Information literacy, Research, Self-motivation, Teamwork.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
  • To develop a knowledge and understanding of the principles of evolutionary genetics

All parts of the course contribute to this goal. We aim to increase conceptual understanding through discussion of material in both lecture and lab time.

  • To provide the basic skills for investigating the evolutionary genetics of plants and animals through application of appropriate theoretical and molecular genetic techniques

Three lab sessions provide these skills in the first weeks of the course, and include DNA, protein, morphological and in silico analyses of populations. Computer labs are used for simulations, analyses, problems and bioinformatics.

  • To develop analytical and problem-solving skills

Two tutorial sessions are given to provide practice at answering problems. Worked answers are provided after you have had the chance to solve them. The examination uses problems as an assessment medium. The exam is worth 60%.

  • To encourage critical assessment of scientific literature

We use research papers in lectures as tools for reinforcing concepts. We encourage critical interpretation of contents and we emphasise the scientific method. Additionally, you are expected to consider the relevant literature in your research project, particularly the literature review.

  • To develop the ability to ask a simple research question that is soluble through the application of skills learnt in practicals

You are encouraged to think of a project for yourselves based on techniques learnt in the skills labs. A list of some possible projects is given. You are expected to develop an idea and design an experiment through reading, and talking with colleagues and staff. You will write a short research proposal and literature review which are worth a total of 15%. The project itself encourages teamwork in groups of 2-4.

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Semester 2

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Monday 12:00-12:50 28-34, 36-41
Tuesday 11:00-11:50 28-34, 36-41


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Wednesday 14:00-17:50 28-34, 36-41