Bio 1260*

The Secret Lives of Plants (fall)

3.0 Unit

Richard D. Vierstra, Ph.D.

George and Charmaine Mallinckrodt Professor, Department of Biology
Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics

Plant and Microbial Biosciences Program
Biochemistry Program
Molecular Cell Biology Program

This course is designed to familiarize undergraduate students with the fascinating lives of plants, their evolution, their remarkable structural and morphological diversity, how they grow, and how they have been modified to feed the planet.  Topics include: how plants can survive with just water, minerals and light, how they transport water astonishing distances, their unusual sex lives, why they make seeds, how they can grow nearly forever, how plants survive extreme environments without running to hide, why they synthesize caffeine, nicotine, THC and opiates, how they defend themselves from pathogens without an immune system, how they sense their environment without complicated sensory organs, how plants have been modified by humans to provide food, fiber and fuel, and how genetically modified (GMO) crops are made and their implications to the environment and society.  Overall goals are to enhance an understanding and appreciation of the plant kingdom, to help young scientists understand the primary scientific literature, and as a starting point for possible careers in plant biology.  Where appropriate, the class will also emphasize key differences between plants and animals.

This course is primarily for freshman interested in majoring in biology, with a focus on plants. This course is also for those that want to know more about where their food comes from, how these amazing creatures survive and flourish, and how GMO crops are engineered.  Upper levels students with an interest in food and agriculture but not necessarily focusing on plants will also be welcome if space permits. Course will be lecture/discussion/hands-on format for 2 of the 3 hour per week.  Students will present 30-minute papers discussing topics relevant to their interests for the remaining 1 hour (two students per week). 


Prerequisites: Students must have taken both biology and chemistry in high school and at least one at the AP or IP levels; or have taken Bio 2960 or Chem 111/112.  This course can be taken by both freshman and upper level undergraduates with a preference given to freshman.


* This course engages freshman in discussions about current biological research. It is optional and does not replace requirements for the Biology major or for pre-health careers. See the Handbook for Biology Majors for details of Biology major requirements.

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