HomeHHMI's BioInteractiveThe Making of the Fittest: Natural Selection in Humans


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Short Film
The Making of the Fittest: Natural Selection in Humans


In some parts of the world, there is an intimate connection between the infectious parasitic disease malaria and the genetic disease sickle cell anemia.

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(Duration: 14 min 3 sec)

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A keenly observant young man named Tony Allison, working in East Africa in the 1950s, first noticed the connection and assembled the pieces of the puzzle. His story stands as the first and one of the best understood examples of natural selection, where the selective agent, adaptive mutation, and molecule involved are known—and this is in humans to boot. The protection against malaria by the sickle-cell mutation shows how evolution does not necessarily result in the best solution imaginable but proceeds by whatever means are available.


  • Jackson Hole Science Media Awards; First Place (Best Short Program)
  • 2012 W3 Awards; Silver
  • 2012 Davey Awards; Silver

Curriculum Connections:

AP (2012–13)

1.A.1.a,b,c,e; 1.A.2.a,b,c; 1.C.3.a,b; 3.A.3.c; 3.C.1.a,b,d; 3.C.2.a; 4.B.1.a; 4.C.1.a,b 

Supporting Materials (6)

Classroom Resource
A worksheet designed to show students how scientists make their discoveries. It provides students with background information about how Dr. Allison's work built upon the contributions made by other scientists. 
Classroom Resource
A lesson that requires students to work through a series of questions pertaining to the genetics of sickle cell disease and its relationship to malaria. These questions will probe students' understanding of Mendelian genetics, probability, pedigree analysis, and chi-square statistics.
Classroom Resource
A hands-on activity that uses simulations with beads to teach students about population genetics, the Hardy-Weinberg principle, and how natural selection alters the frequency distribution of heritable traits. 
Classroom Resource
A hands-on activity in which students construct models of sickle-cell hemoglobin fibers inside red blood cells to illustrate how changes in the structure of a protein can affect cell shape. Students are then asked to relate these changes to disease symptoms.
Classroom Resource
A worksheet designed to actively engage students as they watch the film. Students are asked to answer questions pertaining to the information provided in the film.
Film Guides
The following classroom-ready resources complement The Making of the Fittest: Natural Selection in Humans, which describes the connection between malaria and sickle cell anemia—one of the best-understood examples of natural selection in humans.

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This series of five short films features unforgettable examples of the evolutionary process in action.

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