BIO 220 examines form and function in organisms, using both plants and animals as models. Every organism must overcome a variety of challenges from the environment, biotic and abiotic, in order to survive and reproduce. Adaptations to these challenges often are studied from a physiological perspective – how have leaves evolved to capture light energy efficiently? How have circulatory systems evolved to transport gases, nutrients, wastes, etc.? By asking questions such as these we can learn how organisms function, both in terms of specific organ systems and as integrated units. We can also learn how these functions relate to the evolutionary and ecological histories of different taxonomic groups, and, by comparing distantly related groups (like plants and animals, for example), we can discern similarities as well as differences in physiology that will provide a clearer understanding of the physical and biological limitations under which all organisms must function.
BIO 220 also examines the development of multicellular organisms, that is, how the differentiated, complex “form” suited to a particular environment arises from a single cell, that is, an originally undifferentiated embryo. Here we study both the development of form (morphogenesis), as well as the genetic controls mediating specialization of cell types (differentiation). Again, both plants and animals are used as models to illustrate the complexities inherent in maintaining a multicellular lifestyle.
Together these disciplines – physiology and developmental biology – comprise the F&M student's introduction to organismal biology. Throughout the course, however, the relationships between these subjects and those taught in BIO 110 (heredity, ecology and evolution), as well as those students are exposed to in BIO 230 and 305 (cell biology and molecular genetics) will be emphasized.
In addition to presenting the “nuts and bolts” of animal and plant physiology and developmental biology, a further goal of BIO 220 is to provide students with skills valuable to scientists, and indeed to any thinking citizen. These include the formulation of testable hypotheses, the interpretation of data, the ability to read, digest, and analyze technical literature, and the ability to present clearly and discuss insightfully complex information.