Major Evolutionary Transitions

Type of instruction




Part of degree program


Recommended in

Semester 2

Typically offered in

Spring semester

Course description

(1) Replication and replicators. The quasispecies. Eigen’s equation. Classification of replicators. Artificial replicators.

(2) The origin of life. Organic, abiogenic syntheses. Metabolism. Compartmentation. Protocells and minimal cells.

(3) Ribozymes and their artificial selection.

(4) The origin of the genetic code. Patterns in the code. Molecular data. The appearance of translation.

(5) The origin of eukaryotic cells I. The nucleocytoplasm. Phagocytosis. The endomembrane system. Macrosystematics and eukaryotic phylogenesis. Mitosis.

(6) The origin of eukaryotic cells II. Symbiotic organelles: plastids and mitochondria. Origin of transport systems. Secondary and tertiary endosymbioses.

(7) Evolutionary genetics of the costs and benefits of recombination. Importance of the breakdown of linkage disequilibrium.

(8) Origin of sexual reproduction. Molecular and cytological aspects of recombination. Evolution of the steps of meiosis.

(9) Microbial, experimental models of the evolution of cooperation and the appearance of multicellular prokaryotes.

(10) Origin of multicellularity. Kinds of multicellularity. Origin of senescence. Zootype and the evolution of animals.

(11) Origin of animal societies. Evolution of cooperation. Types of animal society. Castes and the division of labour. Genetics of insect societies. Comparative data.

(12) Origin of human society. Strong altruism (altruistic punishment). Experimental cooperation: economics and neural correlates. The problem of reputation.

(13) Origin of human language. Hominine phylogeny. Tool use. Genetic and neurobiological data. Simulation approach to the origin of language.

(14) General patterns. Appearance of novel levels of evolution. Fraternal and egalitarian major transitions. Division of labour and combination of functions. Novel types of inheritance. Central control and contingent irreversibility.

  • Maynard Smith, J. & Szathmáry, E. 1995: The major transitions in evolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford.