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! This course will evaluate 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: -Reconnaissance of ancient primordial life before the first cell evolved -The entire ~4-billion-year development of single- and multi-celled life through the lens of the Tree of Life -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.
- Week 1 - Orientation
In this module, you will become familiar with the course, your instructor, your classmates, and our learning environment.
- Week 1 - Week 1 - Geological Time and the Nature of Science
The week begins with a discussion of the historical and philosophical approaches that have been developed for the completion of scientific research, with the work of Professor Carl Woese evaluated as an example. The basic tools required for this type of scient...
- Week 2 - Week 2 - The Tree of Life and Early Earth Environments
The advent of life on Earth came about as a result of a remarkable confluence of physical, chemical, and biological processes, all of which were intrinsically linked to rapidly changing early Earth environments. Within this context, cutting-edge approaches in ...
- Week 3 - Week 3 - Fossilization and Precambrian Life-Earth Interaction
This week, you'll explore how scientists interpret ancient fossilized life, which yields remarkably detailed and complete reconstructions of the lifestyles of ancient organisms that have been deceased for hundreds, thousands, millions, and even billions of yea...
- Week 4 - Week 4 - Paleozoic Life After the Advent of Skeletons
This week, you'll learn more about the Cambrian Explosion, which led to the development of external hard skeleton components at 542 million years before present. The initial successes of the invertebrates were shortly followed by the appearance of vertebrates ...
- Week 5 - Week 5 - Paleozoic Plants, Reptiles, and the Transition to Land
In the early Paleozoic, plants evolved to leave the water and invade the terrestrial landscape. Following this transition, vertebrates emerged into land-based ecosystems, and Carbon Dioxide concentrations increased in the atmosphere. The greenhouse warming of ...
- Week 6 - Week 6 - Mesozoic Reign of the Dinosaurs and the Development of Flight
This week, you'll learn more about the Permian-Triassic extinction event, which caused more than 80% of life to go extinct. This opened vast swaths of ecological opportunity for radiation and diversification of life during the Mesozoic. You'll learn about symb...
- Week 7 - Week 7 - Cenozoic Mammals and Global Environmental Change
With the demise of the dinosaurs, mammals rapidly radiated and diversified during the Cenozoic. The combination of abundant food sources and significant fluctuations in global climate fostered extreme variations in morphology, body size, and interaction with t...
- Week 8 - Week 8 - Astrobiology and the Search for Life in the Cosmos
No matter where you are or what you believe, sometime in your life you will look up into the sky and ask: What is out there? Where are we going? Is there life elsewhere in the universe? This course is dedicated to searching for answers to these questions. The...
Bruce W. Fouke, Ph.D.
Director of the Roy J. Carver Biotechnology Center
Department of Geology, Department of Microbiology, and Institute for Genomic Biology