How Did We Get Here? A Look At The Theory Of Evolution

May 19, 2020

While schools are closed, we're creating a series of "Talk of Iowa" episodes that will be fun and educational for learners of all ages. Every Tuesday, we'll learn about biology, and every Thursday, we'll learn about Iowa history.  

On this edition of Talk of Iowa biologists Maurine Neiman and Jim Colbert will introduce listeners to the theory of evolution.

Think for a moment about the dizzying number of plant and animal species you know about. Life on Earth is incredibly diverse, and it's all because of evolution.

Neiman and Colbert give us a short course in evolution basics. We also debunk some common myths about evolution. Evolution is not purposeful, always positive or always in the direction of greater complexity.

We also hear about some examples of amazing adaptations and weird traits, or maladaptations. We learn why evolution is important to each one of us. Later in the program, we learn a little bit about how viruses evolve, resulting in new threats to human health. 


  • Biologist; noun, a scientist who studies living organisms and vital processes.
  • Evolution; noun, the scientific theory explaining the appearance of new species and varieties through the action of various biological mechanisms.  
  • Natural Selection; noun, a natural process that results in the survival and reproductive success of individuals or groups best adjusted to their environment and that leads to the perpetuation of genetic qualities best suited to that particular environment.
  • Genetic Drift; noun, random changes in gene frequency especially in small populations when leading to preservation or extinction of particular genes.
  • Adaptation; noun, modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence under the conditions of its environment: a heritable physical or behavioral trait that serves a specific function and improves an organism’s fitness or survival.  

Discussion questions & activities:

  • Can you think of an evolutionary adaptation that sets humans apart from other species?
  • In a species like humans, that reproduce slowly, evolution is a slow process, but in other organisms evolution can happen very quickly. What kinds of organisms evolve quickly? Here’s an example
  • The mantis shrimp is one of the most unusual creatures on the planet. Watch this video. What adaptations make the mantis shrimp uniquely suited to its environment?