The Synergistic Evolutionary LEarning Consortium: Evolution in AcTION, a Working Group of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, is implementing applied evolutionary research in undergraduate biology education. Members of the working group include the BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium, scientific specialists, and science education researchers. Evolutionary research is engaged with many contemporary human problems in ways that are seldom included in current undergraduate biology education. Examples include:
- the development of vaccines for newly emerging infectious diseases (SARS, AIDS, Asian bird flu, etc.);
- design of pharmaceuticals;
- clinical use of chemotherapy to determine whether treatment will be efficacious or nontoxic for a specific patient;
- development of resistance to extensively used biocides (antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides);
- prevention of destruction to our environment by invasive species;
- use of index fossils to identify energy reserves;
- simulation of locomotion of diverse species to understand human biomechanics and construct better prostheses;
- improvement in the yield and quality of crops and livestock;
- sustainable management of national parks, forest, prairie, and coral reef preserves, and international heritage sites;
- and, preservation of endangered species and biodiversity, in general.
Databases of primary research data on each of these issues will be constructed in a fashion that engage students in formulating and testing evolutionary hypotheses by importing the data into statistical packages, spreadsheets, phylogenetic software, and modeling programs. Explicit synthesis of various approaches to evolution at the molecular, organismal, and ecosystem levels and through heterogeneous perspectives of population and quantitative genetics, evolutionary ecology, bioinformatics, and phylogenetic systematics will be emphasized.