Where Do i Come From? Using Student's Mitochondrial DNA to Teach about Phylogeny, Molecular Clocks, and Population Genetics

Luana S. Maroja, Jason A Wilder

2 Scopus citations


Phylogenetic reconstruction, divergence times, and population genetics are critical concepts for a complete understanding of evolution. Unfortunately, students generally lack "tree-thinking" skills and are often unmotivated to explore these concepts using typical classroom exercises that feature taxa unknown to students or simulated datasets. To generate greater student interest, we have developed an affordable practical lab ($16 dollars per student) where students extract and sequence their own mtDNA and use it for exercises involving phylogenetic reconstruction (placement of own DNA into the world tree), divergence (speciation) time (comparing current student population with chimps, gorillas, and Neanderthal), and population genetics (demographic change calculation based on student's sample). In contrast to traditional labs, we found that students were highly motivated and enthusiastic throughout the four-week activity. Students had a 100% rate of success in obtaining DNA sequences and their evaluations report high satisfaction with the learning outcome. Here we provide all details and datasets needed to run the lab and discuss a series of assessments and possible exercises.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)501-507
Number of pages7
JournalEvolution: Education and Outreach
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 5 2012



  • Gene genealogies
  • Human evolution
  • Phylogenetic analysis
  • Phylogeography
  • Population genetics
  • Tree-thinking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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