2013-2014 Biology Courses
First-Year Studies: Brain and Behavior
Is there a biological basis for consciousness? Do animals have minds? How do biologists study emotions? Does genetics determine behavior? This course will examine a wide variety of questions about the brain and behavior in both humans and nonhumans by reading topical books and articles by researchers and scientists exploring both the biology and the philosophy of the mind. We will learn the basic biology of neuroscience, but much classroom time will be devoted to discussions of readings by major thinkers both contemporary and historical—including Descartes, Darwin, Steven Pinker, and Antonio Damasio—who have tried to understand the biological relationship among brain, mind, and behavior.
General Biology I: Cellular and Molecular Biology
Biology, the study of life on Earth, encompasses structures and forms ranging from the very minute to the very large. In order to grasp the complexities of life, we begin this study with the cellular and molecular forms and mechanisms that serve as the foundation for all living organisms. The initial part of the semester will introduce the fundamental molecules critical to the biochemistry of life processes. From there, we branch out to investigate the major ideas, structures, and concepts central to the biology of cells, genetics, and the chromosomal basis of inheritance. We conclude the semester by examining how these principles relate to the mechanisms of evolution. Throughout the semester, we will discuss the individuals responsible for major discoveries, as well as the experimental techniques and processes by which such advances in biological understanding are made. This semester-long lecture is designed to be followed in sequence by either of the two spring semester seminars: General Biology II: Organismal and Population Biology or General Biology II: Anatomy and Physiology. Classes will be supplemented with weekly laboratory work.
Introduction to Genetics
At the biological core of all life on Earth is the gene. The unique combination of genes in each individual ultimately forms the basis for that person’s physical appearance, metabolic capacity, thought processes, and behavior. Therefore, in order to understand how life develops and functions, it is critical to understand what genes are, how they work, and how they are passed on from parents to offspring. In this course, we will begin by investigating the theories of inheritance first put forth by Mendel and then progress to our current concepts of how genes are transmitted through individuals, families, and whole populations. We will also examine chromosome structure, the molecular functions of genes and DNA, and how mutations in DNA can lead to physical abnormalities and diseases such as Down’s and Turner’s syndromes or hemophilia. Finally, we will discuss the role of genetics in influencing such complex phenotypes as behavior and intelligence. Classes will be supplemented with weekly laboratory work.
Interactions between hosts and pathogens have consequences not only at the individual level but also cascading up through populations, communities, and ecosystems. In this course, we will look at infectious disease through the lens of ecology. First, we will consider infected hosts as ecosystems, focusing on ecological interactions within hosts—both between microorganisms and between pathogens and the host immune system. Next, we will investigate disease dynamics within and between populations, including the emergence of new diseases and the dynamics of vector-borne disease systems. Simple models of disease transmission and spread will be introduced. Finally, we will explore the larger impacts of disease on biological communities and entire ecosystems, looking at topics such as the relationship between disease and biodiversity and the surprising ways in which disease can affect ecosystem structure and function. Examples will be drawn from plant, wildlife, and human disease systems.
Last spring was long and cold. What are you going to do about it? If you prefer hot, dry weather, you can move to Arizona. When environmental conditions are undesirable, mobile organisms like us can simply move to more desirable locations. Plants, on the other hand, are usually stuck wherever they start. In this class, we will explore physiological, developmental, morphological, and anatomical adaptations of flowering plants to diverse environments. This course will include a discussion of physiological processes from the cellular level (water and nutrient movements in cells) to the whole plant level (plant adaptations and plasticity in response to environmental stress). We will utilize readings from textbooks and the primary literature to explore plant physiology, with particular emphasis on experimental plant physiology. We will also explore some experimental examples in the lab to better understand how plants photosynthesize, respire, and control water movement. Permission of the instructor is required.
General Biology II: Anatomy and Physiology
Anatomy is the branch of science that explores the bodily structure of living organisms, while physiology is the study of the normal functions of these organisms. In this course, we will transition from ecology to the exploration of the human body in both health and disease. Focus will be placed on the major body units such as skin, skeletal/muscular, nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems. By emphasizing concepts rather than the memorization of facts, we will make associations between anatomical structures and their functions. The course will have a clinical approach to anatomy and physiology, with examples drawn from medical disciplines such as radiology, pathology, and surgery. In addition, a separate weekly laboratory component will reinforce key topics. Assessment will include weekly quizzes and a final conference paper at the conclusion of the course. The topic for the paper will be chosen by each student to emphasize the relevance of anatomy/physiology to our understanding of the human body. This course is intended to follow General Biology I: Cellular and Molecular Biology and emphasizes anatomical and physiological aspects of life.
General Biology II: Organismal and Population Biology
In this class, we will apply the building blocks of biology from General Biology I—molecules, cells, genetics, and evolution—to better understand the organization, structure, and function of earth’s staggering levels of biological diversity. From the microscopic to the macroscopic scale, we will introduce and discuss the diversity of life, including viruses, bacteria, protozoa, fungi, plants, and animals. We will also explore topics in ecology, considering how organisms interact with the environment and each other. Readings and lectures will be supplemented with peer-reviewed journal articles, and the process of biological inquiry, hypothesis testing, and experimental design will be discussed. In addition, students will participate in weekly laboratory work, including field trips. This course is intended to follow General Biology I: Cellular and Molecular Biology, and emphasizes microbiology, botany, and ecology.
Biology of Cancer
Cancer is likely the most feared and notorious of human diseases, being devastating in both its scope and its prognosis. Cancer has been described as an alien invader inside one’s own body, characterized by its insidious spread and devious ability to resist countermeasures. Cancer’s legendary status is rightfully earned, accounting for 13% of all human deaths worldwide and killing an estimated eight million people annually. In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a “war on cancer”; since then, more than $200 billion has been spent on cancer research. While clinical success has been modest, tremendous insights have been generated in understanding the cellular, molecular, and genetic mechanisms of this disease. In this course, we will explore the field of cancer biology, covering topics such as tumor viruses, cellular oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes, cell immortalization, multistep tumorigenesis, cancer development and metastasis, and the treatment of cancer. In addition, we will discuss new advances in cancer research and draw from recent articles in the published literature.
Giving, Taking, and Cheating: The Ecology of Symbiosis
From gut flora of animals to fungi living in tree roots, symbioses are important and widespread throughout the natural world. We can broadly define symbiosis as different species living together in a close association of any nature, from mutualism to parasitism. In this seminar course, we will explore how symbioses are developed, maintained, and broken down and consider the scientific challenges to understanding the function of such associations. We will read and discuss papers from the primary literature, exploring a broad range of taxonomic groups with a special emphasis on microbial symbiosis (involving fungi or bacteria).