Biology Department

Requirements for Concentration: 13 or 14 units

Introductory-Level: Biology 106 and either Biology 105, or AP Biology with 4 or 5 AP test score, or IB higher level 5, 6 or 7 test score. IB students must confirm their IB credit with the Dean of Studies office

Intermediate-Level: 4 units of graded work with at least one course from each subject area listed below, not including Biology 255

Advanced-Level: 3 units of graded work.

Chemistry: Either Chemistry 108 and 109 or Chemistry 125 at the introductory level, and Chemistry 244 at the intermediate level.

Additional courses: 2 units to be chosen from among Chemistry 245 or 255; Physics 113, 114; Mathematics 101, 102, 121, 122, 125, or 141; Earth Science 151 or 161; Psychology 200; Neuroscience and Behavior 201; Environmental Studies 124; and other intermediate or advanced science courses subject to departmental approval. One of the two units may also be an additional graded 200-level or 300-level Biology course or ungraded independent research, Biology 298 or 399.

Intermediate-Level Subject Areas and Courses:

Ecology, Evolution and Diversity

Biology 208 Plant Structure and Diversity

Biology 226 Animal Structure and Diversity

Biology 241 Ecology

Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology

Biology 205 Introduction to Microbiology

Biology 218 Cellular Structure and Function

Biology 238 Principles of Genetics

Biology 244 Genomics

Biology 272 Biochemistry

Developmental Biology and Physiology

Biology 202 Plant Physiology and Development

Biology 228 Animal Physiology

Biology 232 Developmental Biology

Biology 260 Comparative and Functional Vertebrate Anatomy

Senior Year Requirements: 2 units of graded 300-level biology taken at Vassar College.

Independent Research: The biology department encourages students to engage in independent research with faculty mentors, and offers ungraded courses Biology 178, 298, and 399. The department also offers Biology 303, a graded research experience for senior majors. Students should consult the chair or individual faculty members for guidance in initiating independent research.

Field Work: The department offers field work in biology. Students should consult the field work office and a biology faculty adviser for details.

Teaching Certification: Students who wish to obtain secondary school teaching certification in biology should consult both the biology and education departments for appropriate course requirements.

Early Advising: Those students considering a concentration in biology, particularly those who have already identified an interest in a subdiscipline of biology, should consult a departmental adviser early in their freshman year to discuss appropriate course sequences. After declaration of the major, no NRO work is permissible in the major.

Postgraduate Work: Students considering graduate school or other professional schools should be aware that such schools usually require courses beyond the minimum biology major requirements. In general, students should have at least a full year of organic chemistry, a year of physics, and a year of calculus. Students are urged to begin their chemistry and other correlated sciences coursework as soon as possible, since this will assist them in successful completion of the biology major. Students should consult with the chair of biology or the pre-medical adviser at their earliest opportunity.

Further Information: For additional information on research opportunities, honors requirements, etc., please see the biology department.

Advisers: Any of the faculty members of the Biology Department can serve as Major Advisors. Students who have a preference for a particular faculty adviser may ask that individual whether s/he would be willing to serve as adviser. Students who have no preference should make an appointment to see the Chair of the Department to be assigned an adviser.

Correlate Sequences in Biology:

The Department of Biology offers four correlate sequences, each with a different emphasis. Students interested in undertaking a correlate in biology should consult with one of the biology advisers (see above). All correlate sequences require Biology 105 or AP Biology with a score of 4 or 5 on the AP exam or IB higher level with a score of 5, 6 or 7 on the IB exam, and Biology 106, and the requirements for each subject area listed below:

Cellular Biology/Molecular Biology (6 or 7 units): Chemistry 108/109 or Chemistry 125, any two of the following: Biology 202, 205, 218, 228, 232, 238, 244, 272; plus one of the following; Biology 316, 323, 324, 325,370, 386, 388

Animal Physiology (6 units): Biology 228, plus three of the following courses and at least one at the 300-level: Biology 226, 232, 238, 260, 316, 370.

Ecology/Evolution (6 units): Biology 241, and one of the following; Biology 202, 205, 238, plus two of the following; Biology 208, 226, 350,352, 354, 356, 384.

Behavior/Neurobiology (6 units): Two of the following: Biology 226, 228, 241;one of the following: Biology 232, 238; and one of the following: Biology 316, 340.

I. Introductory

105. a and b. Introduction to Biological Processes (1)

Development of critical thought, communication skills, and understanding of central concepts in biology, through exploration of a timely topic. The content of each section varies. The department.

106. a and b. Introduction to Biological Investigation (1)

Investigation of biological questions via extended laboratory or field projects. Emphasis is placed on observation skills, development and testing of hypotheses, experimental design, data collection, statistical analysis, and scientific writing and presentation. The department.

One 75-minute period; one four-hour laboratory.

Biology 105 and 106 may be taken in any order, but students who have not taken two years of high school biology are urged to start with Biology 105.

141a or b. Introduction to Statistics (1)

(Same as Mathematics 141) The purpose of this course is to develop an appreciation and understanding of the exploration and interpretation of data. Topics include display and summary of data, introductory probability, fundamental issues of study design, and inferential methods including confidence interval estimation and hypothesis testing. Applications and examples are drawn from a wide variety of disciplines. When cross-listed with biology, examples will be drawn primarily from biology. Not open to students with AP credit in statistics or students who have completed Economics 209 or Psychology 200. Prerequisite: three years of high school mathematics.

Not open to students with AP credit in statistics or students who have completed Economics 209 or Psychology 200.

Prerequisite: three years of high school mathematics.

172a. Microbial Wars (1)

(Same as Science,Technology, and Society 172) This course explores our relationship with microbes that cause disease. Topics including bioterrorism, vaccinology, smallpox eradication, influenza pandemics, antibiotic resistance, and emerging diseases are discussed to investigate how human populations are affected by disease, how and why we alter microorganisms intentionally or unintentionally, and how we study disease causing microbes of the past and present. The use of new technologies in microbiology that allow us to turn harmful pathogens into helpful medical or industrial tools are also discussed. Mr. Esteban

178a or b. Special Projects in Biology (1/2)

Execution and analysis of a laboratory or field study. Project to be arranged with individual instructor. The department.

Open to freshmen and sophomores only.

II. Intermediate

Two units of 100-level biology taken at Vassar College are prerequisites for entry into 200-level courses unless other wise stated.

202a. Plant Physiology and Development (1)

An examination of the cellular and physiological bases of plant maintenance, growth, development, and reproduction; with emphasis on the values of different plants as experimental systems. Mr. Pregnall.

Three 50-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory.

205a. Introduction to Microbiology (1)

An introduction to the world of microbes, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. The study of bacteria is stressed. Studies of the morphology, physiology, and genetics of bacteria are followed by their consideration in ecology, industry, and medicine. Mr. Esteban.

Two 75-minute periods; two 2-hour laboratories.

208b. Plant Diversity and Evolution (1)

Plants are critically important for our continued existence on Earth. We are totally dependent on plants for the oxygen we breathe and the food that we eat. We rely heavily on plants for clothing, shelter, and many other essentials. Plants provide us with medicines, poisons, and mind-altering drugs. Plants inspire art, and many plants have become powerful cultural symbols. Thus, biologists, ecologists, environmentalists, anthropologists, and many others want to understand plants. In this course we will examine major events in the evolution of plants and other photosynthetic organisms, including photosynthetic bacteria, and algae. We will focus on their distinctive biological features, their environmental significance, and their value as model organisms for research. Laboratories include observations, experiments, and field trips. This course is appropriate for students majoring in biological sciences or environmental studies, and for those interested in ethnobotany. To get a complete introduction to the biology of plants, you should also take Biology 202, Plant Physiology. Mr. Schlessman.

Prerequisites: Biology 106, or Environmental Studies 124, or permission of the instructor prior to registration.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory.

218a. Cellular Structure and Function (1)

An introduction to cell biology, with a focus on subcellular organization in eukaryotes. The regulation and coordination of cellular events, and the specializations associated with a variety of cell types are considered. Topics include organelle function, the cytoskeleton, and mechanisms of cell division. Laboratory work centers on investigations of cell function with an emphasis on biological imaging. Ms. Pokrywka.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour lab.

226a. Animal Structure and Diversity (1)

The members of the animal kingdom are compared and analyzed in a phylogenetic context. Emphasis is placed on the unique innovations and common solutions evolved by different taxonomic groups to solve problems related to feeding, mobility, respiration, and reproduction. Laboratory work centers on the comparative study of the anatomy of species representative of the major animal phyla. Mr. Davis.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory.

228b. Animal Physiology (1)

A comparative examination of the mechanisms that animals use to move, respire, eat, reproduce, sense, and regulate their internal environments. The physiological principles governing these processes, and their ecological and evolutionary consequences, are developed in lecture and applied in the laboratory. Mr. Long, Ms. Duncan.

Recommended: Psychology 200 or Mathematics 141.

Recommended: Chemistry 108, 109, and Physics 113.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory.

232a. Developmental Biology (1)

The study of embryonic development including gametogenesis, fertilization, growth, and differentiation. Molecular concepts of gene regulation and cell interactions are emphasized. The laboratory emphasizes classical embryology and modern experimental techniques. Mr. Straus.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory.

238b. Principles of Genetics (1)

Principles of genetics and methods of genetic analysis at the molecular, cellular, and organismal levels. Emphasis is placed on classical genetic experiments, as well as modern investigative techniques such as recombinant DNA technology, gene therapy, genetic testing, and the use of transgenic plants and animals. Ms. Pokrywka, Ms. Kennell.

Three 50-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory.

241a. Ecology (1)

Population growth, species interaction, and community patterns and processes of species or groups of species are discussed. The course emphasizes these interactions within the framework of evolutionary theory. Local habitats and organisms are used as examples of how organisms are distributed in space, how populations grow, why species are adapted to their habitats, how species interact, and how communities change. Field laboratories at Vassar Farm and other localities emphasize the formulation of answerable questions and methods to test hypotheses. Ms. Christenson, Ms. Ronsheim.

Three 50-minute periods; one 4-hour field laboratory.

244a. Genomics (1)

Evolution, structure, and function of prokaryotic and eukaryotic genomes, from the perspective of whole-genome sequencing projects. Current applications of genomics for diagnosis and treatment of human disease, ecological and environmental issues, and evolutionary biology. Labs focus on conducting two functional genomics experiments using micro arrays, cDNA libraries, and bioinformatics analysis to profile genes involved in disease processes and responses to environmental stress. Ms. Schwarz.

Prerequisites: Biology 106.

Three 50-minute classes; 4-hour laboratory.

Not offered in 2011/12.

254b. Environmental Science in the Field (1)

(Same as Earth Science 254b., Environmental Science254b., and Geography 254254b.) The environment consists of complex and often elegant interactions between various constituents so that an interdisciplinary approach is required to understand how human interactions may affect it. In this course, we study a variety of aspects of a specific environment by considering how biological, chemical, geological, and human factors interact. We observe these interactions first hand during a weeklong field trip. Some of the questions we may consider are: How does a coral polyp create an environment that not only suits its particular species, but also helps regulate the global climate? How has human development and associated water demands in the desert Southwest changed the landscape, fire ecology, and even estuary and fisheries' health as far away as the Gulf of California? How have a variety of species (humans included) managed to survive on an island with the harsh environment of the exposed mid-ocean ridge of Iceland? The course is offered every other year, and topics vary with expertise of the faculty teaching the course.

By special permission.

Topic for 2011/12: Louisiana's Coastal Processes and Environmental Quality. Coastal Louisiana's dynamic environment has endured repeated disturbances, such as hurricanes, oil and gas drilling, contamination from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and other spills, and channelization of the Mississippi River. We examine the processes that shape this fragile coastline and its potential for recovery. The fieldtrip may include visits to Mississippi River levees and dams, coastal wetlands, barrier islands, and petrochemical refineries. Ms. Cunningham.

255a or b. The Science of Forensics (1)

(Same as Chemistry 255 and Science, Technology, and Society 255)

Not offered in 2011/12.

272b. Biochemistry (0 or 1)

(Same as Chemistry 272b.) Basic course covering protein structure and synthesis, enzyme action, bio-energetic principles, electron transport and oxidative phosphorylation, selected metabolic pathways in prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. Mr. Jemiolo, Mr. Straus, or Mr. Eberhardt, Ms, Garrett, Ms. Mundorff (Chemistry).

Prerequisite: Introductory Biology and Chemistry 244.

Three 50-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory.

281a. Evolutionary Genetics (1)

What do wolves, bananas, and staph infections have in common? The link is genetics – conservation genetics, the genetics of domestication, and the genetic changes resulting in antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. In this course we cover the foundations of evolutionary biology, starting with the genetic principles that underlie the process of evolutionary change and how populations and species respond to evolutionary pressures. Building on this understanding of the genetic mechanisms involved in both micro- and macroevolutionary processes, we can then address the potential for evolutionary responses to environmental change. Ms. Ronsheim.

290a or b. Field Work (1/2 or 1)

298a or b. Independent Work (1/2 or 1)

Execution and analysis of a field, laboratory, or library study. The project, arranged with an individual instructor, is expected to have a substantial paper as its final product.

Permission of instructor is required.

III. Advanced

Two units of 200-level biology are prerequisites for entry into 300-level courses; see each course for specific courses required or exceptions.

303a or b. Senior Research (1)

Critical analysis, usually through observation or experimentation, of a specific research problem in biology. A student electing this course must first gain, by submission of a written research proposal, the support of a member of the biology faculty with whom to work out details of a research protocol. The formal research proposal, a final paper, and presentation of results are required parts of the course. A second faculty member participates both in the planning of the research and in final evaluation.

Permission of instructor is required.

316b. Neurobiology (1)

An examination of nervous system function at the cellular level. The course emphasizes the physical and chemical foundations of intercellular communication, integration and processing of information, and principles of neural development. Laboratory includes demonstrations of biophysical methodology and experimental approaches to the study of nerve cells. Ms. Susman.

Prerequisites: 2 units of 200-level biology or 1 unit of 200-level biology and either Psychology 241 or Neuroscience 201. Recommended: Biology 228, 272.

323a. Seminar in Cell and Molecular Biology (1)

An intensive study of selected topics at the cellular and subcellular level. Topics vary, but may include organelle structure and function, advanced genetics, and mechanisms of cellular organization. Emphasis is placed on current models, issues, and research areas, and course material is drawn largely from primary literature. Ms. Kennell, Ms. Pokrywka, Mr. Straus, Ms. Susman.

Prerequisite: two 200-level courses, including one of the following: Biology 218, 238, 244, 272, or 281.

324a. Molecular Biology (1)

(Same as Chemistry 324a.) An examination of the macromolecular processes underlying storage, transfer, and expression of genetic information. Topics include the structure, function, and synthesis of DNA; mutation and repair; the chemistry of RNA and protein synthesis; the regulation of gene expression; cancer and oncogenes; the molecular basis of cell differentiation; and genetic engineering. Mr. Jemiolo.

Prerequisites: Two 200-level courses including one of the following: Biology 205, 218, 238, 244, 272, or 281.

Two 75-minute periods.

340b. Animal Behavior (1)

Examination of the relationship between behavior and the individual animal's survival and reproductive success in its natural environment. Evolutionary, physiological, and developmental aspects of orientation, communication, foraging, reproductive tactics, and social behavior are considered. Methodology and experimental design are given particular emphasis, and students will complete an independent research project by the end of the semester. Mr. Davis. .

Prerequisites: 2 units of 200-level biology or 1 unit each of 200-level biology and psychology.

Recommended: Biology 226, 228, 238, 244, 281, NSB 201, or Psychology 200.

350b. Evolutionary Biology (1)

Study of the history of evolutionary thought, mechanisms of evolutionary change, and controversies in the study of organic evolution. Topics include the origin and maintenance of genetic variability, natural selection, adaptation, origin of species, macroevolution, co-evolution, and human evolution. Mr. Long.

Prerequisites: any two of Biology 208, 226, or 241; or permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2011/12.

352b. Conservation Biology (1)

(Same as Environmental Studies 352b.) Conservation Biology uses a multidisciplinary approach to study how to best maintain the earth's biodiversity and functioning ecosystems. We examine human impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem function and discuss how to develop practical approaches for mitigating those impacts. We start the semester by assessing the current human footprint on global resources, asking questions about what we are trying to preserve, why we are trying to preserve it, and how we can accomplish our goals. We critically examine the assumptions made by conservation biologists throughout, using case studies from around the world to explore a range of perspectives. Discussion topics include conservation in an agricultural context, the efficacy of marine protected areas, the impact of climate change on individual species and preserve design, restoration ecology, the consequences of small population sizes, conservation genetics, the impacts of habitat fragmentation and invasive species, and urbanecology. Ms. Ronsheim.

Recommended courses: Biology 241, 208, or 226, ESCI 161, Geography 260, 224, or 356; or permission of the instructor

353b. Bioinformatics (1)

(Same as Computer Science 353b.) DNA is the blueprint of life. Although it's composed of only four nucleotide "letters" (A, C. T, G), the order and arrangement of these letters in a genome gives rise to the diversity of life on earth. Thousands of genomes have been partially sequenced, representing billions of nucleotides. How can we reach this vast expanse of sequence data to find patterns that provide answers to ecological, evolutionary, agricultural, and biomedical questions? Bioinformatics applies high-performance computing to discover patterns in large sequence datasets. In this class students from biology and computer science work together to formulate interesting biological questions and to design algorithms and computational experiments to answer them. Ms. Schwarz and Mr. Smith.

To register for this course students must satisfy either the biology or computer science prerequisites, but not both.

Prerequisites: Biology 238, 244, 281, or permission of the instructor.

Prerequisites: Computer Science 203 or permission of the instructor.

355b. Ecology and Evolution of Sexual Reproduction (1)

Sex: "nothing in life is more important, more interesting - or troublesome." This quotation from Olivia Judson, Ph.D., (a.k.a. Dr. Tatiana) is just one recent example of the long-standing fascination that ecologists and evolutionary biologists have had with sexual reproduction. This course begins with the question: What is sex? We then examine the current status of competing hypotheses for the evolution of sex, and then turn our attention to the myriad ecological and evolutionary consequences of sexual reproduction. We consider such questions as: Why are there only two sexes? Why do males and females look and behave differently? When is it advantageous to produce more sons than daughters (or vice versa)? When is it advantageous to be a hermaphrodite or to change sex? To address such questions in a biologically rigorous way, we need to draw on a wide range of theoretical work and empirical evidence from cellular and molecular biology, genetics, developmental biology, ecology, and evolutionary biology. Mr. Schlessman.

Prerequisites: At least two 200-level biology courses, at least one of which is either 208, or 226, or 238, or 241, or 244, or 281; or permission of the instructor.

356a. Aquatic Ecology (1)

A consideration of freshwater, estuarine, and marine habitats that examines material and energy fluxes through aquatic systems; physiological aspects of primary production; the biogeochemical cycling of nutrients; adaptations of organisms to physical and chemical aspects of aquatic environments; biological processes that structure selected communities; and the role of aquatic habitat in global change phenomena. Mr. Pregnall.

370a. Immunology (1)

An examination of the immune response at the cellular and molecular levels. Topics include innate immunity, the structure, function, and synthesis of antibodies; transplantation and tumor immunology; immune tolerance; allergic responses; and immune deficiency diseases. Mechanisms for recognition; communication; and cooperation between different classes of lymphocytes in producing these various responses are stressed, as are the genetic basis of immunity and the cellular definition of "self'' which makes each individual unique. Mr. Esteban, Ms. Collins.

Prerequisite: Chemistry 244 or permission of instructor; Biology 218, 238, 244, 272, or 281 recommended.

381b. Topics in Ecosystem Ecology - Ecosystem Structure and Function (1)

(Same as Environmental Science 381b.)

Ecosystems are complex systems, where biotic and abiotic factors interact to create the world we see around us. Understanding the nature of ecosystems is fundamental to understanding how disturbance and change in a dynamic world will influence ecosystem stability. This is especially critical as we enter the Anthropocene; a time in our planets history where one species, modern humans, dominate. Major changes brought about by increased human activity include changing climate regimes, invasive species spread and biodiversity loss. This course explores how ecosystems, both aquatic and terrestrial, are assembled (structured) and how different ecosystems process energy and matter (function). We use our understanding of structure and function to explore how different ecosystems respond to changes in the environment (including climate change, invasive species introductions, loss of biodiversity and pollution). A class project will explore an ecosystem scale problem, and students will develop a plan for effectively communicating the scientific understanding of the problem to multiple stakeholders. Ms. Christenson

Prerequisite: Biology 241.

382a. The Life Aquatic: Vertebrates (1)

The first vertebrates evolved in water, and those founding fish have left their mark on all of their descendants. One group, tetrapods, evolved limbs and fingers in water and only then did some of their descendants become land-living vertebrates. Many lineages of terrestrial tetrapods, in turn, have re-evolved a partial or complete aquatic lifestyle: witness whales, plesiosaurs, marine turtles, and seals, to name a few taxa. We examine the possible evolutionary circumstances that might have driven these major events: (1) the origin of the first vertebrates, (2) the origin of terrestrial vertebrates, and (3) the origin of secondarily-aquatic vertebrates. To test adaptation hypotheses, we study and employ topics and techniques such as comparative physiology, comparative anatomy, population genetics, phylogenetic analysis, and biomechanical modeling. Mr. Long.

Not offered in 2011/12.

383a. Hormones and Behavior (1)

This course is a comparative examination of hormones and behavior in animals. We take an evolutionary approach to this topic by emphasizing (1) the common selective pressures that act on all animals and the common hormonal and behavioral responses to these pressures, and (2) how extreme selective pressures drive the evolution of unique mechanisms in the field of behavioral endocrinology. Half lecture, half student led discussions from the primary literature. Ms. Duncan.

Prerequisite: Two units of 200-level biology

Two 75-minute periods.

385b. Biogeochemistry (1)

(Same as Earth Science 385b) As the name implies, biogeochemistry focuses on the living world (bio), the geology of the earth (geo) and the interaction of biology and geology on the chemistry of our planet. This course focuses on the biological influences on important geochemical transformations, and how biological systems, underlain by different geologies, affect measurable chemical attributes important to life. The course also covers human influences on biogeochemical cycles. Impacts addressed include the effects of atmospheric deposition (pollution), changes in land use history and how climate change influences biogeochemistry.

386b. Topics in Cell Biology: Nutrition, Signaling, and Disease(1)

This course examines mechanisms by which cells detect and respond to information, nutrients, and pathogens. Topics include receptors and signal transduction systems, environmental regulation of gene expression and cellular behavior, vesicular trafficking, and the mechanisms by which pathogens utilize and corrupt these systems to their own purposes. Laboratory work focuses on use of fluorescence microscopy to assess cellular activities. Mr. Straus.

Prerequisites: Biology 232, 238, 272 or 280.

One 75-minute class; one 3-hour class/laboratory.

387b. Symbiotic Interactions (1)

From the evolution of eukaryotic cells to the creation of entire ecosystems, endosymbiosis is a driving force in biology. This course provides an integrative perspective on host-symbiont interactions in diverse endosymbioses. We spend the first half of the semester examining the critical roles of symbiosis in ecology, evolution, and human systems. Then, we examine the underlying cellular and molecular processes that lead to an integrated host-symbiont partnership, for example mechanisms of host-symbiont recognition, regulation of nutrient exchange, and genomic interactions. Ms. Schwarz.

Prerequisites: Biology 205 Microbiology, 218, 238 Genetics, or Biology 244 Genomics.

Two 2-hour classes per week.

Not offered in 2011/12.

388b. Virology (1)

Viruses cause significant diseases in humans, such as AIDS, influenza, and ebola. On the edge between living and non-living things, viruses invade, take over and alter cells in order to reproduce and transmit. Virus structure, replication and pathogenesis, major viral diseases, the immune response to viruses, and vaccination are major topics of discussion. Mr. Esteban.

Prerequisites: 2 units of 200-level biology, including one of Biology 205, 218, 238, 244, 272, 281; or permission from instructor.

Two 2-hour classes per week.

399a or b. Senior Independent Work (1/2 or 1)

Execution and analysis of a field, laboratory, or library study. The project, to be arranged with an individual instructor, is expected to have a substantial paper as its final product.

Permission of instructor is required.