Syllabus for Origin and Early Evolution of Life

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A revised version of the syllabus is available.


  • 15 credits
  • Course code: 1PA002
  • Education cycle: Second cycle
  • Main field(s) of study and in-depth level: Biology A1N, Earth Science A1N
  • Grading system: Fail (U), Pass (3), Pass with credit (4), Pass with distinction (5)
  • Established: 2007-03-15
  • Established by: The Faculty Board of Science and Technology
  • Revised: 2015-04-20
  • Revised by: The Faculty Board of Science and Technology
  • Applies from: week 30, 2015
  • Entry requirements: 120 credits with 90 credits in earth science or biology. Principles of Palaeobiology, 10 or 15 credits, is recommended.
  • Responsible department: Department of Earth Sciences

Learning outcomes

After completion of the course the student should be able to

  • describe key events in the evolution of life on Earth. In particular the biological and geological setting of the origin of life, the Precambrian evolution of life and the Cambrian explosion
  • describe fossil representatives in the major groups of unicellular organisms including affinities, ecology and biochronology
  • describe and evaluate the principal fossil faunas during the Precambrian-Cambrian transition including their distribution in time and space, together with their associated geochemical and tectonic events
  • appraise and compare the different concepts concerning the early evolution of the major invertebrate phyla
  • evaluate different techniques for dating the biological and geological events during the Precambrian-Cambrian
  • collect and evaluate geological and palaeontological data in the field


Theories about the origin of life, environmental evolution and aspects of astrobiology. Origin and diversification of prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Palaeobiology and ecology of major groups of unicellular biota (bacteria and protists) and their evolution through time. Application in stratigraphy. The Proterozoic radiations of phytoplankton and heterotrophic protists. The Precambrian-Cambrian transition and the evidence for the origin of animals and nature of the Cambrian explosion. Origins of major vertebrate terrestrial ecosystems.


Lectures, seminars, practicals and field course.


Written examination (12.5 credits). Moreover, the compulsory seminars, practicals and field course must be approved (2.5 credits).

Other directives

The field course will cause costs for travel and accommodation for the student.

Reading list

Reading list

Applies from: week 25, 2015

  • Schopf, J. William Cradle of life : the discovery of earth's earliest fossils

    Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, c1999

    Find in the library


  • Armstrong, Howard; Brasier, M. D. Microfossils

    2nd ed.: Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Pub., 2005

    Find in the library

  • Invertebrate Palaeontology and Evolution


    Find in the library

  • Cockell, Charles. An introduction to the earth-life system

    Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008

    Find in the library

  • Erwin, Douglas; Valentine, James The Cambrian explosion: The construction of animal diversity

    Roberts and Company Publishers, 2013

    ISBN-10: 1936221039 ISBN-13: 978-1936221035

  • Margulis, Lynn; Matthews, Clifford N.; Haselton, Aaron Environmental evolution : effects of the origin and evolution of life on planet Earth

    2nd ed.: Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2000

    Find in the library