Biology 11: Science in the News

Winter 2010

T, Th 10:00-11:50; x-hour W 3:00-3:50



                    Michael Dietrich                                               Mark A. McPeek

               113-I Centerra Biolabs                                      113-J Centerra Biolabs

                         646-1389                                                            646-2389

                      Office Hours:                                                     Office Hours:

       T, Th 12:00-1:00 in 416 Gilman                         T, Th 8:00-9:30 in 416 Gilman

                  or by appointment                                             or by appointment


Biology is relevant to almost all aspects of everyday life.  Some are obvious.  Everyone recognizes that medicine and agriculture clearly have their roots in biology.  However, others are not so obvious to the average person.  Even insurance actuarials, economic policies and nuclear proliferation have their roots in biology.  Each week we will consider the biological underpinnings and implications of a current national or international news story. 


Course Content

Each week we will consider a different area of biology that frequently arises in the news.  At the beginning of class on Tuesday, the class will discuss the News Articles that are assigned for that week.  Following this discussion, we will present the scientific material behind and related to the topic of the week.  This lecture portion of the week will span the rest of class on Tuesday and the beginning of class on Thursday.  At the end of class on Thursday, the class will return to discuss the news articles in light of what was presented in lecture.  At the end of class on Thursday, you will receive an essay question to consider (see Evaluation section below).


During the X-hour on Wednesday, we will answer questions about the Scientific Articles.



There is no textbook for this course.  All reading assignments will be from news sources and the scientific literature.  Assigned readings will be posted on Blackboard.  You will be responsible for obtaining the readings from Dartmouth's e-journals library.  Unless otherwise noted, you can find all the Scientific Articles either on our course Blackboard site, in the Dartmouth Biomedical Libraries e-journal listing, or in Dartmouth's Kresge Physical Sciences Library.



Response Papers (three papers at 20% each)

In this course, you must write three papers.  Each week on Thursday you will be provided with an essay question.  You must choose three of these questions to address in your response papers.  Your papers will be due the following Tuesday at the beginning of class.  No late papers will be accepted – no exceptions.


Each paper should be no more than 1000 words in length and must be typed and double spaced.  You must include all references to your sources and those sources must be correctly cited. Please see the Sources Handbook for citation and reference guidelines.  If you have questions, please ask.


Final Exam (40%)

Review questions for the final exam will be provided each week.  These questions are designed to help you prepare for the final exam, and to give you experience with the types of questions that will be asked on the final exam.


Disability Notice

Any student with a documented disability needing academic adjustments or accommodations is requested to speak to us by the end of the second week of the term. All discussions will remain confidential, although the Student Disabilities Coordinator may be consulted to verify the documentation of the disability.


Religious Holidays

Some students may wish to take part in religious observances that occur during this academic term.  If you have a religious observance that conflicts with your participation in this course, please meet with us before the end of the second week of the term to discuss appropriate accommodations.


The Honor Principle

Academic honesty is essential. The following is quoted directly from the Dartmouth College Student Handbook:  “Fundamental to the principle of independent learning are the requirements of honesty and integrity in the performance of academic assignments, both in the classroom and outside. Dartmouth operates on the principle of academic honor, without proctoring of examinations. Students who submit work that is not their own or who commit other acts of academic dishonesty forfeit the opportunity to continue at Dartmouth."  The complete text of the Academic Honor Principle is in the Student Handbook.  Please read it carefully. Any violations of the Honor Principle within the context of Biology 11 will be referred to the Committee on Standards.  The three papers you submit must be completely your own work, and the final examination must be completed without reference to written materials other than those provided with the exam and must be completed without communication with anyone else (the only permissible exception is that students may request clarification of any exam question from the course instructor who is present expressly for that purpose). The answers that you provide must be entirely your own work.



Schedule (subject to change)


Reading assignments for each week.  You should have completed the reading of the News Articles before the Tuesday it is assigned.  We will be discussing these articles at the beginning of class on Tuesday.  You should then read and study the Scientific Articles on Tuesday evening.



(Week 1) Tuesday, January 5:  What is life?


News Articles:


Scientific Articles:


Conrad, P. G., and K. H. Nealson. 2001 A non-Earthcentric approach to life detection. Astrobiology 1:15-24.


Luisi, P. 1998. About various definitions of life. Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere 28:613-622.




(Week 2) Tuesday, January 12:  What makes life on Earth?


News Articles:


Scientific Articles:


Crick, F. 1970. Central dogma of molecular biology. Nature 227:561-563.


Gil, R., F. J. Silva, J. Peretó, and A. Moya. 2004. Determination of the core of a minimal bacterial gene set. Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews 68:518-537.



(Week 3) Tuesday, January 19:  What is a gene?


News Articles:;jsessionid=yiwa2cfez3z4


Scientific Articles:


Holden, C. 2008. Parsing the genetics of Behavior. Science 322:892-895.


Gerst ein, M. B., et al. 2007. What is a gene, post-ENCODE? History and updated definition. Genome Research 17:669-681.



(Week 4) Tuesday, January 26:  What's the right policy towards Iran's nuclear weapons program?


News Articles:


Scientific Articles:


Rockenbach, B., and M. Milinski. 2009. How to treat those of ill repute. Nature 457:39-40.


Pennisi, E. 2009. On the origin of cooperation. Science 325:1196-1199.


Bowles, S. 2009. Did warfare among ancestral hunter-gatherers affect the evolution of human social behaviors? Science 324:1293-1298.



(Week 5) Tuesday, February 4:  Where did Fluffy and Fido come from?


News Articles:


Scientific Articles:


Driscoll, C. A., et al. 2007. The near eastern origin of cat domestication. Science 317:519-523.


Parker, H. G., et al. 2004. Genetic structure of the purebred domestic dog. Science 304:1160-1164.


Leonard, J. A., et al. 2004. Ancient DNA evidence for old world origin of new world dogs. Science 298:1613-1616.


Additional interesting papers


Wade, C. M., et al. 2009. Genome sequence, comparative analysis, and population genetics of the domestic horse. Science 326:865-867.


Perry, L. et al. 2007. Starch fossils and the domestication and dispersal of chili peppers (Capsicum spp. L.) in the Americas. Science 315:986-988.


Pang, J.-F., et al. 2009. mtDNA Data indicate a single origin for dogs south of Yangtze River, less than 16,300 years ago, from Numerous Wolves, Molecular Biology and Evolution 26:2849-2864.



(Week 6) Tuesday, February 9:  How much care should you give to your parents?


News Articles:


Scientific Articles:


Trivers, R. L. 1974. Parent-offspring conflict. American Zoologist 14:249-264.


Robinson, G. E., R. D. Fernald and D. F. Clayton. 2008. Genes and social behavior. Science 322:896-900.


Clutton-Brock, T. Sexual selection in males and females.  Science 318:1882-1885.


Kanazawa, S. 2007. Beautiful parents have more daughters: a further implication of the generalized Trivers-Willard hypothesis (gTWH).  Journal of Theoretical Biology 244:133-140.



(Week 7) Tuesday, February 16:  Where did we come from?


News Articles:


Scientific Articles:


Bamshad, M. 2005. Genetic influences on health: does race matter?  Journal of the American Medical Association 294:937-946.


Tishkoff, S. A., et al. 2009. The genetic structure and history of Africans and African Americans. Science 324:1035-1044.


White, T. D., et al. 2009. Ardipithecus ramidus and the paleobiology of early hominids. Science 326: 75-86.


Additional interesting papers


Green, R. E., et al. 2006. Analysis of one million base pairs of Neanderthal DNA. Nature 444:330-336.


Powell, A., S. Shennan, and M. G. Thomas. 2009. Late Pleistocene demography and the appearance of modern humans. Science 324:1298-1301.


Manica, A., W. Amos, F.  Balloux, and T. Hanihara. 2007. The effect of ancient population bottlenecks on human phenotypic variation. Nature 448:346-348.


Bolnick, D. 2008. Individual ancestry inference and the reification of race as a biological phenomena,” in revisiting race in a genomic age. In (Barbara Koenig, Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, and Sarah Richardson, Eds.) Revisiting race in a genomic age. (Rutgers University Press, 2008), pp. 70-85.


Rosenberg, N. A., S. Mahajan, S. Ramachandran, C. Zhao, J.K. Pritchard, M.W. Feldman. 2005. Clines, clusters, and the effect of study design on the inference of human population structure. PLoS Genetics 1:660-671



(Week 8) Tuesday, February 23:  Why can't we rid the world of diseases?


News Articles:


Scientific Articles:


Marshall, E. 2008. Trench warfare in a battle with TB. Science 321:362-364.


Wolfe, N. D., C. P. Dunavan and J. Diamond. 2007. Origins of major human infectious diseases. Nature 447:279-283.


Smith, G. J. D., et al. 2009. Origins and evolutionary genomics of the 2009 swine-origin H1N1 influenza A epidemic. Nature 459:1122-1125.


Mead, S., J. et al. 2009. A novel protective prion protein variant that colocalizes with kuru exposure. New England Journal of  Medicine 361:2056-65.



(Week 9) Tuesday, March 3:  Why are all the species moving north?


News Articles:


Scientific Articles:


Parmesan, C., and G. Yohe. 2003. A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems. Nature 421:37-42.


Walther, G.-R., et al. 2002. Ecological responses to recent climate change. Nature 416:389-395.


Augustin, L. et al. 2004. Eight glacial cycles from an Antarctic ice core. Nature 429:623-628.

Additional interesting papers


National Research Council. 2006. Surface termperature reconstructions for the last 2,000 years.