Grade Level

High School




Madeleine Jennewein, Tess Bernhard

Lesson Summary

This lesson will help students tie knowledge they have about viruses and genetics to pillars of evolution. In the Bite, students will read about how scientists analyze DNA sequences to generate phylogenetic trees and make inferences about both the origin and future of a deadly virus. Students will get to practice reading complex phylogenetic trees and come to appreciate the stunning speed at which viruses can and do evolve. Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • interpret phylogenetic tree models and locate common ancestors when given its descendants; and
  • compare very short segments of DNA to determine relatedness of samples and infer the sequence of a common ancestor.




Science and Engineering Practices:

SP2, SP4, SP6

MA Science and Technology/Engineering (2016):

HS-LS4-4, HS-LS4-5

NGSS (2013):


Common Core Math/Language Arts Standards:



AIDS, HIV, common ancestry, epidemiologist, evolution, pandemic, phylogenetic tree

Educator SoundBites

"The lesson engaged my students and made for a great starting place for talking about phylogenies as well as viruses.The teacher tips were very helpful and resulted in some good classroom discussions.”
Mary Clare Bernal, Presentation High School, San Jose, CA

Lesson Documents


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Download PDF View Google Doc


Download PDF View Google Doc

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