Emergence of Life
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.
About the Course
The pioneering work of Professor Carl Woese on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus has revolutionized our understanding of the fundamental structure and evolutionary relatedness of all living entities on Earth. This has resulted in a new "Tree of Life" and a first ever understanding of what life looked like before the base of the root of the Tree had evolved.
Although these concepts from Woese's work are central to cutting-edge genome-enabled research in all fields from medicine to energy, these understandings are currently only minimally (if at all) taught in classrooms around the world.
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 reconnaissance of ancient primordial life before the first cell had evolved, the entire ~4-billion-year development of single- and multi-celled life through the lens of the Tree of Life, and the influence of Earth system processes (meteor impacts, volcanoes, ice sheets) on shaping and structuring the Tree. This synthesis emphasizes the universality of the emergence of life as a prelude for the search for extraterrestrial life.
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
No specific background is required, other than an open mind and an eagerness to apply critical free thought and approaches of scientific inquiry to explore how life on Earth came to be in its current form, and whether there is life elsewhere in the cosmos.
No textbooks are required. A few articles will be recommended to read, but not required.
The class will consist of 8-12 lecture videos per week, which are between 8 and 12 minutes in length. These contain 1-2 integrated quiz questions per video. There will also be standalone homeworks that are not part of video lectures, weekly quizzes, and other assignments.
Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?
Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.
What resources will I need for this class?
For this course, all you need is an Internet connection.