Bio 310

Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington, USA

4 credits, Fall Semester
With BIO 310L--Required Laboratory

COURSE MATERIALS BELOW Click to GO TO Fall 2013 syllabus Click to GO TO Fall 2013 web schedule+links

This course is an advanced examination of cellular and organ processes that allow self-regulation, maintenance and reproduction in organisms, with an evolutionary perspective. Animals will be the main organisms studied, with an emphasis on mammals including humans, although other types will be considered. Laboratories parallel the lectures, include students as test subjects, and a few animal experiments. Both lecture and lab will include computer simulations, Internet sites and videos.
The course takes an integrative approach that modifies and updates the traditional systems approach, and is organized into 4 broad sections:

1. SELF-REGULATION: the neural, endocrine and related systems as interacting, whole-body coordinating systems.
2. SELF-SUPPORT AND MOVEMENT: musculoskeletal functions
3. SELF-MAINTENANCE: considers the components necssary to maintain life and the processes that regulate them, including circulation, gases and respiration, water and solutes, energy and metabolism.
4. SELF-REPRODUCTION: considers the systems involved in reproduction.

An Australian butterfly thermoregulating
(absorbing solar energy before flight)

These are useful links for finding out about physiological and medical research, and : Links to career-related sites:


TEXTBOOK: ANIMAL PHYSIOLOGY by Sherwood, Klandorf, Yancey; 2nd ed., 2013 (Cengage):

Physiology is the study of biological function. Many people automatically think this is the study of discrete organ systems and how they work. Indeed, most textbooks are organized around such systems -- Nervous System, Respiratory System, etc. However, this can be a misleading approach. First, physiology is concerned with function at all levels, from the molecular to the ecological; indeed there are subfields called molecular, cellular, developmental, ecological physiology in addition to the traditional organ-based areas such as Cardiovascular Physiology. Second, there are no separate independent systems in an organism; all have multiple functions that interact with many or most others. For example, the skin is called the "Integumentary System" in most texts, but it is an organ involved in thermoregulation, immunity, reproduction via sexual signaling, excretion and salt/water balance. Or take the heart--it's not simply a circulatory pump, but also has a gland that regulates salt and blood pressure. Third, functions begin at the micromolecular level and build through a hierarchy to the whole organism. Understanding of an organism's functions, therefore, requires an ability to think across artificial boundaries from the molecular level to the "big picture" level of the whole being. For this reason, Physiology is often called the integrative biological science.
Today Biology is being revolutionized by rapid advances in molecular biology and genomics. Often this information is reductionistic, with little biological integration--for example, the publication of a gene's DNA code without knowledge of how that gene operates in an organism. James Schafer, President of the American Physiological Society, has declared that

"...physiologists must play a central role in integrating information obtained at the molecular and cellular levels into a fuller understanding of function at higher levels of organization." (The Physiologist v.39:41, 1996).

At the international level, physiologists and their societies are calling for integrative research and teaching. This course recognizes this. Themes are whole-body functions with traditional organ systems within those; we examine those functions from the molecular/genetic level on up. While most Physiology textbooks take a reductionistic organ-systems approach, I have recently co-authored a textbook which uses an integrative systems approach. For example, a chapter on Fluid Balance integrates the regulation of water, salts and wastes using the brain, hormones, the kidney, the lungs, the skin, and the intestines.

Secondary Theme: EVOLUTION. Organisms are the product of millions of years of evolution. Indeed, as Ernst Mayr, a primary developer of the modern theory of evolution, points out, all biological phenomena must be considered from two levels of explanation:
1. Proximate = mechanistic function “as is”; “how does it work” analysis. E.g., the human spine is stiffly-jointed, slightly flexible support for the middle and upper body, made of bone, cartilage, etc.
2. Evolutionary = historical/selective reason; “why did it end up this particular way” analysis. E.g., the vertebrate spine first evolved in proto-fishes as a flexible attachment for swimming muscles.
One consequence is that bodies are not always logically designed, but are the product of historical compromises. Just look at all the mild to severe spinal problems humans have from our recent evolution into an upright stance. Indeed, illogical flaws are regarded by some as the most powerful evidence for evolution.
This explanatory duality has often profound implications for understanding of anatomy and physiology, yet in the past it has often been ignored. Now, a revolution called evolutionary physiology (or Darwinian medicine) is re-evaluating many of current biological and medical dogmas. We will have many readings and lecture topics on this.
3. There is also a separate type of explanation, the teleological, which describes a feature's purpose ("what is it good for?"). So you may see three levels of analysis, the "how, why and what for" to explain a biological feature. Teleology is a dangerous approach; SEE THE TEXT Chap. 1 for more about this and other explanations.

GO TO Whitman Biology Home Page; GO TO Prof. Yancey's Home Page