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Illinois IGB

Emergence of Life MOOC

July 2, 2014

Emergence of Life MOOC

How did life emerge on Earth? How have life and Earth co-evolved through geological time? Is life elsewhere in the universe? Take a look through the 4-billion-year history of life on Earth through the lens of the modern Tree of Life.

The pioneering work of Professor Carl Woese on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus has revolutionized our understanding of the fundamental structure and evolutionary relatedness of all living entities on Earth. This has resulted in a new "Tree of Life" and a first ever understanding of what life looked like before the base of the root of the Tree had evolved.

Although these concepts from Woese's work are central to cutting-edge genome-enabled research in all fields from medicine to energy, these understandings are currently only minimally (if at all) taught in classrooms around the world.

This course will evaluate the entire history of life on Earth within the context of our cutting-edge understanding of the Tree of Life. This includes reconnaissance of ancient primordial life before the first cell had evolved, the entire ~4-billion-year development of single- and multi-celled life through the lens of the Tree of Life, and the influence of Earth system processes (meteor impacts, volcanoes, ice sheets) on shaping and structuring the Tree.  This synthesis emphasizes the universality of the emergence of life as a prelude for the search for extraterrestrial life.

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the NASA Institute for Universal Biology, and the Institute for Genomic Biology have partnered to present this educational opportunity, made possible with the contributions of scientific experts from around the world, including Karl Stetter, Norm Pace, Jan Sapp, Mike Russell, Bruce Fouke and Nigel Goldenfeld.

Please join this unique 8-week journey through history, evolution, geologic change, and discovery of the universality of Life.

Registration, course information and a 2-minute video overview are available at


July 2, 2014
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