Meet the Family: Investigating Primate Relationships

Meet the Family: Investigating Primate Relationships


Jennifer Cross Peterson
Senior Educator
Harvard Museum of Natural History
Cambridge, Massachusetts

*MIT BLOSSOMS thanks the Harvard Museum of Natural History for allowing us to film this lesson at several of their exhibits.

Lesson Feedback


In this lesson students will see the different types of evidence scientists use to understand evolutionary relationships among organisms. They will first practice by using shared physical characteristics to predict relationships among members of the cat family and then use this approach to predict primate relationships. They will compare their predictions to evidence provided by analyzing amino acid sequences and build a phylogenetic tree based on these sequences. Finally, they will look at the tree in the context of time in order to see divergence times.

Instructor Biography

Jennifer Cross Peterson is the Senior Educator at the Harvard Museum of Natural History where she teaches a broad range of programs to students and teachers, and develops informal science curricula for learners of all ages. 

For Teachers

Additional Online Resources

Understanding Evolution Evolution 101
This Berkeley website is a terrific resource for teaching ideas, content, background information, all evolution related. You can find phylogeny exercises, natural history information, images and much more. You might need to wander around the site to become familiar with all of its offerings.

Smithsonian: What does it mean to be human?
This is the Smithsonian website “What Does It Mean to Be Human,” an extremely comprehensive resource on human evolution for teachers and students.

New York Times: Adventures in Very Recent Evolution
From the pages of The New York Times science section, this article, entitled “Adventures in Very Recent Evolution,” informs readers about the ways humans have evolved in the recent past and will continue to evolve into the future.