Evolution Project

Evolution Project:

The overview of this is to choose a particular trait and present how it has evolved. The details will vary depending on which topic you choose. Each topic will have different strengths and weaknesses in terms of data, and thus will require slightly different approaches. Types of data could include fossil evidence, comparison of genes and their regulation in modern organisms, comparative anatomy and comparative embryology as well as other sources, depending on the topic.
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Possible topics for Evolution research.

Cetacean (whale) evolution.

This is in some way the most traditional project. It has one of the most recent timelines and uses all the usual tricks: fossil record, comparative anatomy etc. There are more recent data using DNA to analyze what the closest relative of the whale on land is, so that should be available too. It’s fun, it’s full of interesting anatomical information and it’s relatively straightforward.

Eyes, vertebrate:Eyes, invertebrate:

These are two different topics, so it should probably be covered by 4 people total. The
Shubin article does a good job of setting the project up. The weakness of this topic is that fact that there is no fossil record. Everything is based upon comparisons among extant eyes and genetics and biochemistry of photo reception. There is so much here that I think it could be approached from many directions. Read the section on the different types of eyes in the Shubin paper if you are interested and it will give you a good idea of how you might approach it. Also, you can talk about the evolution of macro-structures surrounding photo reception.

Tetrapod Limbs and body plan

This is a classic that has both a wealth of fossil data and very strong data from modern developmental biology. For this and eyes, in particular, the question of how organs are generated will be addressed.
This is clearly a two, maybe three-person topic. You could break it into separate projects related to each other, with one focusing on other aspects of the body plan and one on the limb evolution. You could focus on the transition from aquatic to terrestrial or on the development of different forms of terrestrial limbs (wings, different patterns of numbers of digits…this is really interesting from the standpoint of transcription in development and would provide some interesting overlap with someone working on whales).

Lungs and breathing air.

This takes some unexpected twists. It turns out that gills are not a precursor of lungs. One of the advantages of this project is it allows you to look at comparative embryology and a somewhat old idea that “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” In other words, the development of vertebrates in the womb tells you a lot about the evolution of these organs and their use.

Vertebrate Ear and Hearing:

This is a classic. You get some great fossil evidence and comparative anatomy of modern species. There is also some genetic stuff

Some others:

Evolution of the synapse. We haven't gotten to neurobiology yet. But, this focusses on how you go from a generic chemical sensor to signaling pathways to synapse…I've seen it done well once.
Limb regeneration…this was a sleeper that turned out great last year. The question was really more about evolution of the loss of limb regeneration.
The Vertebrate Immune System. Again, we haven't covered it yet. But, we had several immune-focussed projects earlier…this is mostly comparative genetics…
Evolution of the genetic code and ribosome…don't do this unless you are crazy. But, it was a spectacular project last year.

If there is anything else that any of you are interested in, I would be happy to entertain the possibility.