Biological evolution and history of biology

A.Y. 2021/2022
Overall hours
Learning objectives
The teaching aims to clarify how the scientific revolution has reached full maturity only with the emergence of mechanicism and determinism in biology. More specifically, how the overcoming of vitalistic, animistic and teleological concepts was achieved in biology only after the affirmation of Darwinian thought.
Expected learning outcomes
At the end of the teaching, the student will acquire basic knowledge in evolutionary biology; knowledge on the development of evolutionary thought in the period between the beginning of the 19th century and the end of the 20th century; elements on the history of twentieth-century biology, with particular reference to the birth and development of genetics and molecular biology.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
First semester
More specific information on the delivery modes of training activities for academic year 2021/2022 will be provided over the coming months, based on the evolution of the public health situation.

The teaching material (lessons in pdf and links to videotaped lessons) will be made available on the ARIEL platform.

The exam is written. In the emergency phase it will take place through the web. It will consist only of multiple choice questions.
Course syllabus
Introduction to the course: teleology; the metaphor of the clock; natural theology; mutation; cumulative selection.
Darwinian algorithm, Lamarck VS Darwin.
History of Darwinism I. Charles Darwin: training and the voyage.
History of Darwinism II. The Theory, as proposed by Darwin.
History of Darwinism III. Evolutionary biology developments following the publication of the Origin.
The rediscovery of Mendel's laws and the birth of genetics.
History of genetics and molecular biology I: from the transforming principle to the double helix.
History of genetics and molecular biology II: the deciphering of the genetic code; the role of RNA; the first discoveries on the regulation of gene expression.
The eclipse of Darwinism.
The Synthetic Theory of Evolution.
Developments in evolutionary theory following the Synthetic Theory: the neutral theory of molecular evolution; punctuated equilibrium.
The concept of fitness in biology.
Symbiosis and intergenomic conflicts; Wolbachia as a manipulator of reproduction and as a mutualistic symbiont.
Elements of molecular evolution and phylogenetic trees.
Hierarchies and targets of natural selection; altruism, selfishness, social behavior.
Origin of life and origin of the eukaryotic cell.
Prerequisites for admission
For the course to be followed with full benefit it is necessary for the student to possess basic knowledge of chemistry and cell biology. Such basic knowledge is therefore also useful for the exam, even though the exam questions concern the topics indicated by the syllabus , and not the basic disciplines mentioned above.
Recommended prerequisites (not mandatory):
Chimica generale con elementi di chimica-fisica
Chimica organica e laboratorio di chimica
Citologia e istologia
Teaching methods
Course is based on frontal lessons, supported by projected slides.
The student will be involved in actively participating in the discussion.
Teaching Resources
Suggested books:
Mayr, Storia del pensiero biologico. Diversità, evoluzione, eredità. Bollati Boringhieri
Ferraguti & Castellacci. Evoluzione. Modelli e processi. Pearson.
Zimmer. Le infinite forme. Un'introduzione alla biologia evoluzionistica. Zanichelli.
Teaching material from the teacher:
The slide used by the teacher during the lessons will be available to the students, through the Ariel portal of the University of Milano (, at the page of the course in Evoluzione Biologica e Storia della Biologia.
Assessment methods and Criteria
The exam is written. It consists of 28 multiple-choice questions and an open-ended question. The time allocated for the execution of the exam is 90 minutes (unless special requirements). The score attributed to each multiple-choice question with a correct answer is 1 point (for a total of max 28 points). Wrong answers do not result in penalization. The maximum score attributed to the text of the answer to the open question is 6 points. The student can acquire the maximum score (30/30 cum laude) if he has achieved an overall score of 33 points. The text of the answer to the open question is evaluated based on the relevance of the answer, on the correctness and completeness of the discussion, on the clarity.
M-STO/05 - HISTORY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY - University credits: 6
Lessons: 48 hours