Teaching Online


How did life emerge on Earth? How have life and Earth co-evolved through geological time? Is life elsewhere in the universe? Take a look through the 4-billion-year history of life on Earth through the lens of the modern Tree of Life!




The Emergence of Life course evaluates the entire history of life on Earth within the context of our cutting-edge understanding of the Tree of Life. This includes the pioneering work of Professor Carl Woese, on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus, which revolutionized our understanding with a new “Tree of Life.” Other themes include: (1) Reconnaissance of ancient primordial life before the first cell evolved. (2) The entire ~4-billion-year development of single- and multi-celled life through the lens of the Tree of Life. (3) The influence of Earth system processes (meteor impacts, volcanoes, ice sheets) on shaping and structuring the Tree of Life. This synthesis emphasizes the universality of the emergence of life as a prelude for the search for extraterrestrial life.


This course will be broken up into 8 weekly modules covering the following topics:
Week 1: Course Welcome, Geological Time, and the Nature of Science
Week 2: The Tree of Life and Early Earth Environments
Week 3: Fossilization and Precambrian Life-Earth Interaction
Week 4: Paleozoic Life After the Advent of Skeletons
Week 5: Paleozoic Plants, Reptiles, and the Transition to Land
Week 6: Mesozoic Reign of Dinosaurs and the Development of Flight
Week 7: Cenozoic Mammals and Global Environmental Change
Week 8: Astrobiology and the Search for Life in the Cosmos


The goals of this course are to have students gain a basic understanding and familiarity with the emergence of Life on Earth, and how these perspectives are shaping our search for life throughout the universe. Students will be to accomplish the following: (1) summarize the fundamentals of molecular phylogeny and the essence of the Tree of Life, (2) name the major extinctions and radiations punctuated by meteor impacts through geological time, (3) compare the fossil record Life throughout the Phanerozoic, (4) examine controversial questions in evolutionary biology and astrobiology, (5) apply scientific inquiry to new observations and ideas not encountered before, (6) conduct a basic analysis of a scientific research paper.