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Coronavirus Evolution and the Covid-19 Pandemic

In this analysis and discussion activity, students learn that the coronavirus responsible for the current pandemic very probably originated in bats. Students analyze how mutations and natural selection can produce a spillover infection.

Next, students learn how natural selection increased the frequency of a mutation that made the coronavirus more contagious.

Finally, students analyze how mutations contributed to the spread of the Omicron variant and its subvariants.

The Student Handout is available in the first two attached files and as a Google Doc designed for use in online instruction and distance learning. The Teacher Notes, available in the last two attached files, provide instructional suggestions and background information and explain how this activity is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

coronavirus evolution SH.docx1.59 MB
coronavirus evolution SH.pdf507.32 KB
coronavirus evolution TN.docx1.82 MB
coronavirus evolution TN.pdf1.2 MB


iwaldron's picture

August 2022 revision

The August 2022 revision has updated the Student Handout and Teacher Notes to include the evolution of the coronavirus during the summer of 2022 and multiple recent research findings.


iwaldron's picture

2022 revision

The Student Handout and Teacher Notes have been updated with many recent research results, including on the Omicron variant. Also, I have streamlined and reorganized the Student Handout and added information to the Teacher Notes.


Saswati Koya's picture

Model Responses

Thank you for this amazing resource.
Could you please share any models answers you have?
Thank you so much.

iwaldron's picture

Key available

Please see the Teacher Notes for instructions about how to request a key which you can use to create model answers.


Serendip Visitor's picture


Hi! I sent you an email a while ago. I am requesting for the key answers, I hope you'll reply. Thank You!

Ann Dixon's picture

School email address?

Hi, did you send the email from your school email address? Dr. Waldron does not send the key to gmail addresses where we can't verify that it's not an enterprising student asking. Thanks!

iwaldron's picture

2021 revision

The activity on the origin of the coronavirus that is causing the current pandemic has been revised and expanded to include more emphasis on the process of natural selection and to introduce the evolution of the new variants of the coronavirus. Recent research evidence (up through March 6, 2021) has been incorporated in the Teacher Notes and Student Handout.

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