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NSCI 312
Sensory Biology Fall 2020
Division III
Cross-listed BIOL 312 / NSCI 312

Class Details

How do animals sense properties of the physical world? How do they convert physical or chemical energy to a signal within a cell that carries information? How is that information represented? What are the limits on what can be sensed? We will look for answers to these questions by investigating the molecular and cellular mechanisms of sensory transduction, and how these mechanisms constrain the types of information that the nervous system encodes and processes. We will also ask how natural selection shapes the type of sensory information that animals extract from the world, and what adaptations allow some species to have “special” senses. Some of the examples we will consider are: bat echolocation (hair cells in the ear), detecting visual motion (amacrine cells in the mammalian retina), the constant reshaping of the olfactory system (chemical mapping of odors), what makes a touch stimulus noxious, and enhanced color vision (in birds, bees, and shrimp). This course will be “flipped”, with readings and on-line presentations to be done before class and in-class time devoted to short quizzes, additional explanations of the material, and discussions of the primary literature. Laboratory exercises will focus on the nematode C. elegans, an important model system, to explore and extend how we understand touch, temperature sensation, and chemosensation.
The Class: Format: lecture/laboratory; Prior to each class, students will do assigned readings and view on-line presentations of material. The "lecture" hours will be used to complete short quizzes (~5 minutes), go over concepts and experiments that require elaboration, answer questions, and discuss assigned papers from the primary literature. The lab program will have 5 pre-designed labs; the remainder of the semester will be devoted to independent projects.
Limit: 12
Expected: 12
Class#: 2983
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Four take-home exams, an independent research project (proposal, followed by results/discussion), presentation about a non-standard sensory system, short quizzes, lab and class participation.
Prerequisites: Either BIOL 212 or BIOL 205
Enrollment Preferences: Preference to senior Biology majors who need a 300-level course; then to senior Neuroscience concentrators who need a Bio elective; then to Biology majors. Not open to students who have taken Biology 213.
Unit Notes: Does not satisfy the distribution requirement for the Biology major
Distributions: Division III
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
BIOL 312 Division III NSCI 312 Division III
Attributes: BIMO Interdepartmental Electives
NSCI Group A Electives

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