By Elisa Loza, Agent and and scientific statistician, Rothamsted Research.
Evolutionary biology is the branch of biology that studies the evolutionary processes that give rise to the diversity of life on Earth. Understanding these processes is essential to every aspect of our life including the development of crop varieties that are resistant to pests (and, therefore, food security); finding cures to human diseases (for example, there is some similarity between the way cancer develops in one person and the way genes evolve through billions of years); and measuring the impacts of pollution and climate change by studying the variation through time of microbial diversity in marine sediments or soil samples.
Modern evolutionary biology utilises the information from the components that make up all living organisms on Earth: our DNA. By comparing the DNA material of a set of organisms we can understand the relationships that hold amongst them and, ultimately, organise our biological knowledge into a model of ancestry and descent. The model of how all living organisms have evolved from ancestral forms into their present state is usually visualised as a tree of life: the root represents the common ancestor to all life (perhaps a primitive form of cell), the branches indicate the evolutionary paths that ancestors took when diversifying to become new species, and the tips correspond to the organisms that are alive today [1,…Continue Reading