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Wonderful Life: Genes and Evolution ( This site may be offline. )

Dr. Frank Deis
Dr. Frank Deis
Dr. Frank Deis

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
Course Type:
Biology Honors

Course Size:
presumably small (30 or less)


This course uses the Ediacaran fauna as a focus to teach about evolution, the nature of science, and how to write well. The students start off reading "Wonderful Life" (Gould, 1989 ), which deals with mysterious Precambrian animals. They not only start studying arthropods, evolution, and geologic time from this point, but also analyze why Gould is such an effective writer.

Course Context:

Dr. Reis makes no assumptions about his student's backgrounds but expects them to read a great deal and to write well. This interdisciplinary course could probably be taught in a number of departments.

Course Goals:

This course will develop students':
  • Abilities to read critically and write engaging and clear prose
  • Understanding of evolution, both from the perspective of theory and the fossil record
  • Appreciation for the diversity of life and environments on Earth both past and present

Course Content:

Topics include (of course) the Burgess shale, undersea volcanoes, geologic time, Darwin and natural selection, extinction, arthropods, and the evolution of sex.

Teaching Materials:

The course web site contains the syllabus, descriptions of assignments, links to helpful and interesting resources (including annotated lists of relevant books and scientific controversies), and fossil descriptions.


The course grade includes at least five papers and presumably participation in discussion.

References and Notes:

The readings for this class include not only several textbooks but also papers, presumably primary literature.