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The mission of the Biology Department is to provide students with the skills necessary to understand the complexity of the biological world and its interconnectedness. The diversity of the biological sciences requires a multifaceted approach, from elucidating biological mechanisms to explicating the ontogenetic, ecological, and evolutionary processes that shaped them.  Beyond teaching students to interpret biological knowledge, we emphasize the skills necessary to acquire new knowledge through hands-on laboratory and field-based coursework and research collaborations with department faculty. Required core courses include BIOL 167 Introductory Topics, BIOL 212 Biostatistics, and BIOL 460 Senior Seminar. Biology is a diverse discipline united by common principles, thus our curriculum allows students to select many elective courses. Electives in Biology fall into one of two categories: processes within organisms (A) and processes among individuals (B), see course catalog for listings; that represent levels of organization from molecules and cells to evolutionary and population thinking, and emphasize different types of questioning within biology.

Biology offers two disciplinary majors, a B.A. and a B.S., and a disciplinary minor. Only courses completed with a grade of C- or better, both departmental and cognate, may count toward the major or minor. Bidisciplinary courses do not typically count toward a biology major.

Processes within organisms

Processes among individuals


  • BIOL 220: Genetics
  • BIOL 222: Microbiology
  • BIOL 232: Cell Biology
  • BIOL 233: General Physiology


  • BIOL 215: Evolutionary Genetics
  • BIOL 225: Ecology
  • BIOL 227: Behavioral Ecology
  • BIOL 228: Biology of Plants
  • BIOL 234: Vertebrate Biology
  • BIOL 238: Aquatic Biology


  • BIOL 302: Immunology
  • BIOL 324: Anatomy
  • BIOL 327: Cancer Biology
  • BIOL 340: Neurobiology
  • BIOL 341: Developmental Biology
  • BIOL 380: Genomics


  • BIOL 316: Conservation Biology
  • BIOL 320: Agroecology
  • BIOL 325: Invasion Biology
  • BIOL 336: Evolution
  • BIOL 356: Ornithology

Table 1: Biology electives listed by categories. The major requires an even distribution of courses between the two categories.

disciplinary, 12 courses
Nine biology courses, seven of which must be completed at HWS or as part of HWS-sponsored abroad programs. Biology courses must include BIOL 167, BIOL 212, and BIOL 460. The remaining six courses are electives, three of which must be completed at the 200-level and three of which must be completed at the 300-level. Of the six biology electives for the B.A., three must be completed in each of the two categories (see Table 1). BIOL 450 Independent Study may substitute for a maximum of one 300-level biology course. Completion of BIOL 495 Honors may substitute for BIOL 460. Other required courses are MATH 130, CHEM 110, and CHEM 240.

At least six courses must be unique to the major. All courses for the major must be completed with a grade of C- or better. Of the nine biology courses for the B.A., seven must be HWS courses or as part of HWS-sponsored abroad programs. At least five biology courses must have a laboratory. Credit/no credit courses cannot be counted towards the major.

disciplinary, 16 courses
All of the requirements for the B.A. major, plus one additional 200- or 300-level course from biology, and three more courses from chemistry, computer science, environmental studies (ENV 200, ENV 203, ENV 216 or ENV 310 only), geoscience, mathematics, physics or psychology. Additional natural science courses may not include GEO 107, MATH 100, MATH 110, or MATH 114. Of the 10 biology courses for the B.S., seven must be completed at HWS or as part of HWS-sponsored abroad programs.  At least five biology courses must have a laboratory. All courses must be passed with a grade of C- or higher. Credit/no credit courses cannot be counted towards the major.

Progressing through the major: During the first year, students are advised to complete BIOL 167 and either one more course in biology or at least one of the cognate courses of the major (CHEM 110, CHEM 240, or MATH 130). BIOL 212 Biostatistics should be completed after BIOL 167 and a 200-level elective, ideally by the end of the sophomore year.  We expect most students to complete their 200-level electives by the end of the junior year, and 300-level courses should be taken mainly by juniors and seniors. 300-level electives require completion of BIOL 212 and at least two additional 200-level courses, one of which should be in the same category (Table 1) as the 300-level course. BIOL 460 Senior Seminar is intended as a capstone course, integrating information presented in the first three years, and is completed during the spring semester of senior year. Honors research in Biology (BIOL 495) may substitute for BIOL 460 with an adviser’s permission.

disciplinary, 6 courses
BIOL 167 and five additional biology courses. Students minoring in biology should work with a biology adviser to select courses that best complement their major and their career goals. All courses must be passed with a grade of C- or higher. A maximum of 1 course taken for a CR grade may be counted toward the minor.

Policies on C/NC and course repeats
For the major, all BIOL courses must be taken for a grade. For the major, CR/NC courses will not count. For the minor, a maximum of 1 course taken for a CR grade may be counted toward the minor. All other BIOL courses towards the minor must be taken for a grade. Any courses repeated for a better grade must be repeated in full—both laboratory and lecture components need to be repeated.

Advanced Placement
In consultation with the department chair, students who earn an Advanced Placement (AP) score of 5 may choose to substitute a biology elective course for BIOL 167 Introductory Biology.

BIOL 212 substitution
Students may substitute other statistics courses on campus (PSY 210, ECON 202 or GEO 207) in place of BIOL 212.  Statistics courses from off campus must be petitioned for approval using the petition form.

Taking biology courses in HWS abroad programs 
Most courses in biology in HWS-sponsored abroad programs (e.g. Denmark, South America, and Australia) require only an introductory level background in biology, which is the same requirement for our 200-level courses. Therefore, students will be allowed to substitute abroad courses for 200-level electives only. If two biology courses are taken in abroad programs, each will count as 200-level elective and regardless of course content, students will be given credit for a course in each category (see Table 1). If only one biology course is taken abroad, the student will work with their adviser to determine the category the course will count in—both course content and the student’s academic plan will be taken into account. This policy for abroad courses simplifies advising for students, ensures that students benefit from our faculty’s expertise in their advanced courses, and allows students to be exposed to the breadth of biological disciplines through their coursework at HWS.

Courses taken at other institutions, which are not affiliated with HWS-sponsored abroad programs, are considered on a case-by-case basis. Students must petition the department for these courses to count towards their Biology degree. Petition forms can be downloaded here.

BIOL 167 Introductory Topics These courses, while focused on a range of topics, are designed to help you (1) distinguish between scientific inquiry and other modes of inquiry; (2) articulate in general terms the central concepts of biology, including the process of evolution through natural selection; the central role of DNA, RNA, and proteins in living organisms; and the inheritance of genetic information; (3) ask relevant biological questions, develop scientific hypotheses, and design experiments to test hypotheses; and (4) explain the relevance of biological knowledge to society. Each course includes laboratory sessions. Prerequisites: none. (Offered every semester)

Sample introductory topics:

  • The Biology of Sex This course examines the important themes in biology through the lens of reproduction; a defining characteristic of all life. This course uses an evolutionary-based approach to understand the cost and benefits of asexual versus sexual reproduction. We will study why sex evolved, discover some of the fantastic strategies plants and animals use to mix their genes, explore the evolution of sex, learn how genetic information is passed from generation to generation, and visit such topics as mating strategies, sperm competition, female mate choice. (Ryan)
  • A Biotech World - Origins and Implications of Recombinant DNA Technology With increasing knowledge of DNA structure and function, scientists have acquired powerful tools for tinkering with the genetic makeup of living organisms. To date, our ability to manipulate DNA has had a significant impact in areas such as agriculture, human health, and the environment. This course introduces the basic scientific principles behind recombinant DNA technology and its potential applications. Students also address the environmental, ethical, and social issues that surround the use of this technology in our changing world. (Kenyon)
  • Dangerous Diseases Black death, the Spanish Flu, AIDS—Is the greatest threat to humanity likely to come from a new deadly disease that causes worldwide havoc? This course explores the cell biology, molecular biology and physiology behind some of humanities’ most tenacious infectious diseases, such as SARS, Ebola, Hantaan virus, and HIV. Understanding the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases allows assessment of the possibility that a deadly infection could cause another deadly global outbreak. Finally, students explore how scientists combat infectious diseases and whether or not the human genome project and the ability to sequence the genomes of disease-causing organisms offer new mechanisms to fight deadly diseases. (Carle)
  • HIV and related topics According to the World Health Organization, there are over 33 million people currently living with HIV. We will examine HIV from various angles including how it enters cells, how it integrates into the human genome, how it changes, and methods to detect it and prevent its infection. Through these topics we will explore concepts such as molecular and cellular components of cells, genetics and evolution, and immunology and viruses. (Mowery)
  • How & Why Animals Communicate Animals communicate in many different ways and for many different reasons. Despite these differences, underlying mechanisms on a molecular and cellular level are remarkably similar. We will use specific examples of communication to understand basic biological properties that define living organisms, such as cell structure and function, behavior, and evolution. We will ask how communication occurs through biological mechanisms (proximate causes) and why communication occurs as a function of adaptation and evolution (ultimate causes). Although this course will focus on biology in the context of communication, the information discussed can be applied to any biological issue. (Holtzman)
  • Living Color The biological world is filled with color. In animals, color can be used to provide camouflage or be part of conspicuous signals. Climate, environmental resources, and an organism’s genetics influence color. Moreover, the perception of color is a property of an organism’s visual system, and interactions between organisms can affect both the color of the signaler and the visual system of the receiver. In this course, we will examine color in animals as a basic biological trait to understand the underlying mechanisms that produce color as well as how evolution shapes the coloration of organisms. (Deutschlander)
  • Plants and People Plants, broadly defined, are incredible organisms that humans rely on for food, shelter, textiles, medicine, and the oxygen we breathe. This course explores the basic biology of plants and emphasizes the ways in which humans and plants are similar and different with a focus on how we sense and respond to the world around us, all while covering all of the core principles of biology. (Straub)
  • The Secret Life of Bees explores important facets of biology through the lens of bees. Bees are a model system in biology, used in a diverse array of biological research including genetics, ecology, and evolution. During this course we will study defining characteristics of bees and their insect relatives, investigate why some bees are social and others are solitary, understand how bees and flowering plants evolved together for pollination, and learn about genetic mechanisms that underlie bee behavior. We will also cover general topics in biology related to all organisms, such as the evolutionary relationships among species, how traits are passed from parents to offspring, sex determination, how genes are expressed in individuals, and forces of evolution including natural selection. (Fischman)

BIOL 212 Biostatistics This course is required for the major. The concepts presented in this class are applied in nature and require, as background, only an elementary knowledge of algebra and the desire to learn. Subjects discussed include probability as a mathematical system, various probability distributions and their parameters, combinatorics, parameter estimation, confidence intervals, t-tests, various chi-square applications, one- and two-way analysis of variance, correlation, and simple linear regression. The course includes an introduction to statistical computing on Macintosh computers utilizing standard statistical packages. Prerequisite: BIOL 167 and a 200-level biology elective. (Brown, Cosentino, Droney, offered each semester)

BIOL 215 Evolutionary Genetics This course introduces students to major concepts in population genetics and microevolutionary theory.  Students will explore evolutionary processes responsible for the origin and maintenance of genetic diversity in populations. To address the broader importance of genetic diversity, students will also examine applications of population genetics in medicine, conservation, forensics, agriculture, and anthropology. Topics include microevolution, quantitative genetics, molecular evolution, and molecular ecology. Laboratories will emphasize population genetic models and experimental design using computer simulations and molecular techniques. Students will discuss case studies from the primary literature and develop quantitative skills by analyzing and interpreting empirical data.  Prerequisite: BIOL 167. (Cosentino, offered each annually).

BIOL 220 General Genetics This course focuses on the foundational principles that define the broad and integrative field of modern genetics.  The major topics considered are the structure of genetic material, its replication, its transmission, and its expression. Special emphasis is placed on the central features of genes, transcription and translation, and the mechanisms that regulate expression and transmission. Epigenetics, genome modification and editing, and applications of genetics in medicine are explored through the primary literature. The course consists of lectures and laboratory experience with either animal or plant systems. Through the laboratory experiences, students will build upon and expand their skills in experimental design as well as molecular and/or cellular techniques routinely used in the field. With laboratory. Prerequisite: BIOL 167. (Kenyon, Straub, offered each annually)

BIOL 222 Microbiology This course provides a broad introduction to microorganisms. Students are given an opportunity to both examine microbes from the traditional vantage of microscopes and colonies, and enter the current conversation on and techniques using microorganisms. Microbiology is a multi-disciplinary field and this course will allow students to explore genetics, molecular biology, bioinformatics, evolution, ecology, biochemistry, and immunology. With laboratory. Prerequisite: BIOL 167. (Mowery, offered annually)

BIOL 224 Anatomy This course presents a systemic approach to the study of the human body. Course topics begin with an introduction of anatomical terminology and an overview of cellular processes and tissue classification. Students then are introduced to the gross and microscopic anatomy of the following systems: integumentary, skeletal, muscular, nervous, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, urinary and reproductive. Students will also develop an understanding of how these systems develop during early embryology, as well as learning the clinical relevance of disease and disorders that affect anatomy. One of the goals of this course is to provide an understanding of human anatomy which then provides the foundation for clinical diagnosis and decisions. The laboratory component of the course generally parallels and reinforces lecture concepts with practical hands-on learning. (Ryan, offered annually)

BIOL 225 Ecology This course is an introduction to ecological theories as they apply to individuals, populations, communities, and ecosystems. Topics covered include physiological ecology, population dynamics, competition, predation, community structure, diversity, and the movement of materials and energy through ecosystems. The laboratory is designed to provide experience with sampling techniques and an introduction to the methods of experimental ecology. With laboratory. Prerequisite: BIOL 167.  (Brown, Cosentino, Cushman, offered annually)

BIOL 227 Behavioral Ecology The specific behaviors employed by organisms to solve the "problems" associated with survival and reproduction have been shaped through time by evolutionary forces. Thus, to understand why individuals behave as they do, we must understand the nature of the complex interactions between individual and the environment, including social interactions with other individuals of the same species, in the past and present. This evolutionary approach to understanding behavior is the focus of the discipline of behavioral ecology. Emphasis is placed on why organisms within populations of species vary in behavior, in addition to the more traditional approach of relating ecology and behavior across species. Topics may include social behavior and mate choice, animal and plant signaling, foraging tactics, and the genetics of behavior. With laboratory.  Prerequisite: BIOL 167. (Droney, offered annually)

BIOL 228 The Biology of Plants The diversity of plants is enormous, ranging from microscopic phytoplankton to trees more than 300 feet tall. Using an evolutionary approach, students study this great diversity and follow the development of plants from the earliest photosynthetic single-celled organisms to complex flowering plants. Plant structure and function are discussed in relation to the environment in which plants live. Studies of plant anatomy, physiology, and ecology focus on flowering plants. Throughout the course, human uses of plants and plant products are highlighted. The laboratory provides hands-on experience with the plant groups discussed in lecture and an opportunity to experimentally test many of the concepts presented. With laboratory. Prerequisite: BIOL 167. (Newell, offered annually)

BIOL 232 Cell Biology An introduction to the fundamental principles that guide the functions of cells and organelles. The major topics covered are transcription and translation, cell communication and signal transduction, cellular metabolism (respiration and photosynthesis), and cell motility.  These topics are studied in the context of cancer and other human diseases. With laboratory. Prerequisite: BIOL 167. (Carle, offered annually)

BIOL 233 General Physiology An introduction to the major physiological processes of animals, from the level of cells and tissues to the whole organism. A comparative examination of animals emphasizes basic physiological processes and demonstrates how animals with different selective pressures "solve problems" related to integrating the separate yet coordinate organ systems of their bodies. Students examine relationships between structure and function, mechanisms of regulation, control and integration, metabolism, and adaptation to the environment. Laboratory exercises reinforce lecture topics and emphasize an investigative approach to the measurement of physiological processes. With laboratory. Prerequisite: BIOL 167. (Deutschlander, offered annually)

BIOL 234 Vertebrate Biology Vertebrates are among the most abundant and conspicuous animals in the natural world. Topics covered include an exploration of the diversity of vertebrates, the characteristics that define each vertebrate group, and how those characteristics relate to each group's evolution. In addition, the course covers principles of systematic biology, methods used by study vertebrates, behavior, reproduction, life history and physiology of vertebrates. The laboratory combines experiments with field trips.  With laboratory. Prerequisite: BIOL 167. (Ryan, offered annually)

BIOL 238 Aquatic Biology Aquatic Biology provides a working knowledge of the general biology and ecology of aquatic systems and of the organisms that make up aquatic communities. Study in the classroom and field focuses on lake systems, but also includes streams and rivers, wetlands, and ponds.  Students use field and laboratory techniques to study water quality issues, community composition, and ecological interactions among aquatic organisms. With laboratory. Prerequisite: BIOL 167. (Brown, offered annually)

BIOL 302 Immunology Immunology is a complex, multi-discipline and evolving field of study. We will explore cellular immunology, molecular immunology and the immune system in diseases. A wide range of topics will be covered including the cells and organs of the immune system, innate and acquired immunity, the structure and function of the major molecular players in the immune response, vaccines, immunity to microorganisms, immunodeficiency, transplantation and cancer. The laboratory portion will explore the molecular immunological techniques relevant to the medical and research fields. With laboratory.  Prerequisites: BIOL 212, and at least two additional 200-level courses, one of which must be BIOL 220, BIOL 222, BIOL 232, or BIOL 233. (Mowery, offered annually)

BIOL 315 Advanced Topics in Biology An in-depth study of topics of current research interest. Recent examples of courses include Restoration Ecology, Field Biology, Behavioral Neurobiology. Prerequisites: BIOL 212 and at least two additional 200-level courses, one of which will be dependent on the designated category/topic of the course. (Staff, offered occasionally)

BIOL 316 Conservation Biology Conservation biology addresses the alarming loss of biological diversity around the globe. In this course, students will explore the causes and consequences of biodiversity loss. Emphasis will be placed on integration of ecological and evolutionary theory to address the management and protection of biodiversity. Topics include species extinction and rarity, conservation genetics, population ecology, population viability analysis, landscape ecology, land and wildlife management, and captive species management. Students will also examine social, economic, and philosophical aspects of conservation, including the role of science in environmental policy. This course combines lecture, laboratory, and discussion of the primary literature. With laboratory. Prerequisites: BIOL 212 and at least two additional 200-level courses, one of which must be BIOL 215, BIOL 225, BIOL 227, BIOL 228, BIOL 234, or BIOL 238. (Cosentino, offered annually)

BIOL 320 Agroecology Agriculture dominates the landscape around Geneva and in this course we'll use ecological theory to study agricultural ecosystems, exploring how their design and management affect productivity, sustainability, and the surrounding environment.  Our work will focus primarily on agricultural ecosystems found locally including vineyards, orchards, row crops, organic farms, and backyard gardens.  We will also consider animal production systems.  We'll start by investigating how plants acquire and use resources such as light energy, water, and nutrients.  Then we'll explore the impact of species interactions in agricultural systems.  Finally, we'll examine impacts of management practices on species diversity and on the sustainability of agroecosystems.  The laboratory will be field-based. Prerequisites: BIOL 212 and at least two additional 200-level courses, one of which must be BIOL 215, BIOL 225, BIOL 227, BIOL 228, BIOL 234, or BIOL 238. (Newell, offered annually)

BIOL 325 Invasion Ecology Biological invasions are second only to habitat destruction in causing declines in native species and are the primary drivers of global environmental change. Species invasions also provide unique opportunities for testing basic theories in ecology and evolution. This course studies the process and underlying mechanisms of invasions, the effects of invasions on communities and ecosystems, and the management techniques employed to address invasions. The focus is on research approaches and discussion of the relevant scientific literature.  Prerequisites: BIOL 212 and at least two additional 200-level courses, one of which must be BIOL 215, BIOL 225, BIOL 227, BIOL 228, BIOL 234, or BIOL 238. (Brown, offered annually)

BIOL 327 Cancer Biology Cancer is not a single disease. Rather, it is a collection of related diseases that share similarities in origin, genetics, and development. This course will explore the complexities of cancer development. The course begins with understanding DNA damage and mutations, followed by the genetic differences between cancer and normal cells. Next, we move out of cell to discuss the role of the microenvironment in cancer suppression and development. In this section we discuss normal cells, such as stroma and immune cells, the influence tumor development. The final section of the course discusses unresolved theories of cancer development and treatment. Prerequisites: BIOL 212 and at least two additional 200-level courses, one of which must be BIOL 220, BIOL 222, BIOL 232, or BIOL 233. (Carle, offered annually)

BIOL 336 Evolution Evolution is often referred to as the great unifying principle of all the biological sciences. In this course, both micro-evolutionary process and macro-evolutionary patterns are discussed. Micro-evolution involves studying current evolutionary processes (such as natural selection, sexual selection, and genetic drift) using techniques from population, quantitative, and molecular genetics. Additional topics include levels of selection, adaptation, and ecological factors important for evolutionary change. Evolutionary processes also are central to the understanding of past events and, therefore, topics such as biological diversity, speciation, phylogeny, and extinction are also discussed. With laboratory. Prerequisites: BIOL 212 and at least two additional 200-level courses, one of which must be BIOL 215, BIOL 225, BIOL 227, BIOL 228, BIOL 234, or BIOL 238. (Droney, offered annually)

BIOL 340 Neurobiology In this course students examine concepts and experimental models in cellular and systems neurobiology in order to gain a better understanding of how the nervous system is integrated to produce simple and complex behaviors. After a consideration of how individual neurons function, students examine (1) how parts of the nervous system are specialized to sense and perceive the environment, (2) how commands are initiated and modified to produce smooth, well-controlled movements, and (3) how more complex functions of the nervous system (such as emotions, language, homeostasis, etc.) are produced by neural networks. Because neurobiology is an inherently comparative field, students examine neural processes that demonstrate basic concepts inherent to neurological systems both in invertebrates and vertebrates (including humans). Laboratories include some computer simulations of neuronal physiology and "wet lab" experiments designed to introduce students to techniques for investigation of the neural basis of behavior. With laboratory.  Prerequisites: BIOL 212 and at least two additional 200-level courses, one of which must be BIOL 220, BIOL 222, BIOL 232, or BIOL 233. (Ryan, offered occasionally)

BIOL 341 Developmental Biology This course presents a comprehensive view of the principles that govern how a single fertilized egg develops into a complex organism. Developmental biology is an integrative discipline that includes other fields of biology such as molecular and cell biology, genetics, biochemistry, evolution, neurobiology and physiology.  Through lectures and laboratory exercises, students learn the experimental approaches used by scientists to study developmental processes. With laboratory. Prerequisites: BIOL 212 and at least two additional 200-level courses, one of which must be BIOL 220, BIOL 222, BIOL 232, or BIOL 233. (Kenyon, offered annually)

BIOL 356 Ornithology Birds instill wonder in many people due to their colorful and melodious communication, their incredible flight and migrations, and their ubiquitous presence everywhere humans live.  Birds are also obvious sentinels of environmental change; more than one species has been a " canary in a coal mine " for environmental disturbances such as pesticide use, pollution, and climate change.  Ornithology is the scientific study of this amazing group of animals.  In this course, we will study local avifauna to learn about the diversity, natural history, and conservation of birds.  Students will develop identification skills and learn and practice field techniques in ornithology.  The study of birds also provides the opportunity to take a holistic approach to biology, combining subdisciplines such as evolutionary biology, systematics, population biology, genetics, animal behavior and physiology.  Lecture and discussion topics may include the evolution and systematics of extant birds, feathers and flight mechanics, anatomy and environmental physiology, migration and dispersal, foraging ecology and niche partitioning, communication, parental and social behavior, and conservation.  We will read and assess primary literature in ornithology to investigate how scientists advance our understanding of birds, and will examine the role of citizen science in advancing our ornithological research.  Student experience, knowledge, and interest will determine specific case studies we explore.  With laboratory.  Prerequisites: BIOL 212 and at least two additional 200-level courses, one of which must be BIOL 215, BIOL 225, BIOL 227, BIOL 228, BIOL 234, or BIOL 238. (Deutschlander, offered annually)

BIOL 380 Genomics The field of genomics is a rapidly developing area of biology due to recent advances in DNA sequencing technology that makes relatively rapid sequencing of whole genomes of organisms and genome-scale approaches to answering biological questions possible. These advances in sequencing are revolutionizing studies in many areas of biological study, including genetics, development, evolution, and medicine. Topics to be covered in this course include methods for genome sequencing, genome assembly and annotation, genomic approaches for the study of structural changes, whole genome duplication, gene family evolution, gene expression, as well as evolutionary genomics, metagenomics, and personalized medicine. In the laboratory for the course, students will acquire the wet lab skills necessary for genomic data collection, use next-generation sequencing technology to sequence billions of base pairs of DNA, and gain the bioinformatics skills necessary to process, characterize, and analyze genomic data.  With laboratory. Prerequisites: BIOL 212 and at least two additional 200-level courses, one of which must be BIOL 220, BIOL 222, BIOL 232, or BIOL 233. (Straub, offered annually)

BIOL 460 Biology Seminar The biology seminar is intended as a capstone experience that integrates knowledge learned in previous biology courses. Seminar topics are selected by the faculty and announced in advance of registration. Seminars are a detailed exploration of a current topic in biology. Prerequisite: open only to senior biology majors, except with permission of the instructor. Prerequisites: BIOL 212 and at least two additional 200-level courses, one of which must be from each category: processes within organisms (BIOL 220, BIOL 222, BIOL 232, or BIOL 233) and processes among individuals (BIOL 215, BIOL 225, BIOL 227, BIOL 228, BIOL 234, or BIOL 238). (Offered spring semester)

Sample senior seminar topics:

  • Climate Change Biological Responses to Climate Change Climate change is nothing new. Earth’s climate has been anything but constant over its history, and organisms have either responded or gone extinct. What’s likely to happen in this current period of climate change? Are species going to have enough time to acclimate or adapt? Will some migrate to a more hospitable region? What are the limits to acclimation, adaptation, and migration? Can we predict which species won’t respond in time? These are some of the questions we’ll address in this seminar. Answers to these questions will require you to integrate what you’ve learned across the major. And, given that responses can range from acclimations to adaptations, and can occur from the molecular level up to the ecosystem, we’ll benefit from the different knowledge, interests, and questions you each bring to the course.
  • Dispersal ecology The study of movement resulting in gene flow Have you ever wondered how a population recolonizes an area that was disturbed in some way (flooded, dried out, burned)? Did you know that environmental conditions during gestation and prenatal periods regulate dispersal outcomes? Did you know that parents and siblings can induce dispersal of some young? Have you thought about the fact that there is a genetic basis from which dispersal occurs? Dispersal originated as a sub-discipline of animal behavioral biology, but various aspects have been applied to almost all living organisms and branched into new applications of research. It is an important life-history trait that can evolve in response to any change in the environment, and has immense impacts on the potential for local adaptation and genetic differentiation in a population. Our semester will be spent learning about who, why, when, and where organisms disperse, as well as the consequences related to these movements in proximate and ultimate ways.
  • Suspended Animation How and why organism put life on pause. Many organisms—from bacteria to mammals—are capable of metabolic flexibility. These organisms are able to lower respiration and slow metabolism by a variety of processes. Examples include dormancy from days to years, hibernation in mammals, quiescence in response to heat, and diapause that suspends embryonic development. Even germ and somatic cells within an organism exit the cell cycle for extended periods of time. Why do organisms and cells exhibit this behavior, and how is it controlled? We will be exploring the idea of suspended animation from proximate and ultimate ways of thinking to broaden our understanding of how biologists ask questions to explain a biological trait or phenomenon. This will require you to integrate knowledge and skills you’ve acquired as a biology major, in both required courses and in the subdisciplines you have explored.

BIOL 450 Independent Study Attendance at all biology seminars, generally held on alternate Friday afternoons, is required of all students conducting independent study. Prerequisite: permission of the instructor.

BIOL 456 1/2 Credit Independent Study

BIOL 495 Honors Attendance at all biology seminars held throughout the semester is required of all students doing Honors. Prerequisite: permission of the instructor.

Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.