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BIO 1250: Biology Seminar

Small groups explore a topic in biology while learning to think like a scientist

Are you interested in catching the excitement of biology by talking with a faculty member and other inquisitive students? If you answered yes, then consider enrolling in a BIO 1250 Seminar that is facilitated by enthusiastic faculty members who love teaching. Topic based seminars target first-year students with AP credit or a strong interest in research. Seminar enrollment is limited to 20 students, is usually held for two hours over seven weeks, and is awarded 1credit with an S/U grade only. The seminar goals are outlined below:

  • Increase the opportunity for students to have a meaningful interaction with a biologist
  • Perpetuate excitement in studying biology
  • Develop critical thinking skills by exploring topics in the biological sciences (review at least one scientific paper)
  • Increase sense of community by expanding social and academic networks
  • Learn the value of collaborative learning
  • Discuss ethical issues in science

Student evaluations have been very positive: 92% responded that the seminar helped develop critical thinking skills and 99% reported being able to interact comfortably with the professor. Many faculty seminar leaders enjoyed the freedom to use a more inquiry based learning model while giving students the opportunity to choose papers to review and take leadership for helping lead discussions.

Student Feedback: Random responses from students who were asked ifthey would recommend the seminar to other students.

"I definitely would. It piqued my interest in marine life. The lecturer was instrumental in doing that."

"Yes, it’s a great foundation-builder in biological research skills!"

"Yes. This course helped me feel less intimidated by scientific papers, introduced me to a variety of topics, and helped me understand the general format of scientific papers required by different journals."

"Yes I would recommend the course, it was very informative and would especially benefit anyone with an interest in botany or pharmaceuticals."

"I would definitely recommend this course to others. Not only did it help me understand some medical issues seniors have to face, it also helped me understand the economics of the US healthcare system. This class also exposed me to concepts I have never touched upon and it was interesting."

"It was good to study a variety of topics chosen by students who had an interest in them. An awesome idea for a course – combining both discussion of papers and practical laboratory skills."

"Yes, but only to those people who are serious about majoring in science and who want to improve their communication skills (i.e., as they present)."

"Yes. It’s a great experience in a wide range of areas/skills. I definitely would, it is a great way to learn a bit about microbiology. I really was not thinking about taking microbio but I think I will now."


SEMINAR TOPICS Seminar topics are listed below.


What can genomes tell us about bacterial pathogens? BIOMI 1250; 1 cr., S/U, Tuesdays 2:30-4:25PM, begins 9/9/14 in Mann Library B30B

Dr. Jim Shapleigh


The bacterium Escherichia coli can either be a harmless commensal or a deadly pathogen. In this class we will explore the molecular mechanisms and evolutionary forces that bring about the remarkable strain diversity found in E. coli and related bacteria.


Birds Can Tell Us Things and We Should Listen: An Introduction to Ornithology and Bird Study Techniques, BIOEE 1250; 1cr.,S/U, Thursdays, 1:25-3:20PM, begins 9/04/14 with shuttle pick-up to Lab of Ornithology
Ron Rohrbaugh Jr.


Unlike most mammals that rely on a keen sense of smell, birds, like humans, use sounds and vivid color vision to survive and communicate with each other. Did you know that the sound frequency range of bird song is nearly identical to the range of human hearing? Birds have a lot to tell us, if we know what questions to ask. By using the principles of scientific inquiry to observe and listen to birds, we learn not only about birds, but about ecology, animal behavior, evolution, physics, and potential environmental threats to our planet. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, including bioacoustics, capture and sampling methods, genetics, citizen science, and conservation biology; this course will teach the fundamentals of ornithology and field techniques for studying birds. The seven, two-hour sessions will combine hands-on field and lab exercises with group discussions about critical thinking and the importance of framing a working scientific question. Bring your boots and binoculars and prepare to have some birding fun!


BIOG 1250: Disturbance ecology: trophic interactions in a changing climate, 1cr., S/U, Fridays, 11:15-12:05, beginning 9/5/14 in 1120 Comstock Hall
Dr. Mark Sarvary

The complexity of interactions among species is fascinating. These interactions are in constant flux as anthropogenic and natural disturbances have dramatic effects on the function and structure of ecosystems and on biodiversity. Just imagine how 17-year cicadas can temporarily interrupt the food web, how the arrival of climate refugees can disturb already established trophic interactions, or how a hydrilla outbreak will affect our own Cayuga Lake. In this seminar course we will discuss how anthropogenic and natural effects reshape ecosystems and change biodiversity. We will talk about natural disturbances such as wildfires, hurricanes and insect outbreaks, as well as anthropogenic disturbances such as increased carbon emissions, forest clearing, and the introduction of exotic species. You will read and analyze scientific papers, discuss hypothesis testing, critique experimental designs, and debate whether anything is constant under a changing climate.


BIOMG 1250:  HIV:  Immunity and Drug Design, 1 cr., Next Offered Spring 2015

We will cover a variety of topics that relate to HIV, AIDS, the immune system, and currently used anit-viral therapies.  The format of the course will vary from week to week but will include a case study, internet research, discussion, lab work, and computer graphics to learn about how protein structural information can be used to develop improved drugs.


BIOMG 1250:  The Genetics of Adaptation, 1 credit, Tim Connallon and Nancy Chen

Adaptation is the outcome of an interaction between natural selection and genetic variability within a population. Understanding the genetic basis of adaptation has long been a central goal of evolutionary biology. Fueled by the recent explosion of tools for genome sequencing and gene expression analysis, modern evolutionary biologists are finally well equipped to delve into the complex interplay between selection and variation during the process of adaptive evolutionary change. Moreover, this new research has many important implications for other subjects in biology that include human disease genetics, conservation biology, and the evolution of sex and mating systems. This course provides an introduction to the scientific study of the genetics of adaptation, by way of guest presentations by Cornell researchers, small group discussions, and a guided tour of the recent primary scientific literature that includes the most cutting edge findings within this fascinating area of research.


BIOMI 1250:  Microscopy and Imagination*

Barbara Eaglesham

“Animalcules” were first discovered in the 17th century by a cloth merchant who lacked scientific training but made up for it with an abundance of curiosity and a passion for seeing new things. He constructed his own microscopes and used them well into his 70’s. See original publications of his work and others’ at Kroch Library’s Rare Book and Manuscript Collections where we will gather for the first session. Explore some of the more innovative advances in microscopy, learn some history of microscopy and prepare for research in a lab by gaining practical skills in phase contrast and fluorescence microscopy. Explore the small!

*The ability of the mind to think of clever and original ideas, possibilities or solutions


BIOG 1250:  Infectious diseases in the modern world, 1 cr., S/U, Tuesdays 2:30-4:25 (Starts Jan 27, 2015 and runs through Mar 10, 2015); Limited to 20 students

Dr. Eric Nelson and Dr. Michael Milgroom

With increasing globalization, a burgeoning human population, and growing agricultural trade, the emergence of infectious diseases has become an increasing threat to human and ecosystem health. In this seminar we will explore contemporary emerging and re-emerging diseases of humans, animals or plants that have potentially damaging impacts on ecosystems or human society. Using the primary research literature, we will explore infectious disease biology from the molecular to the ecosystem level, focusing on a range of case studies selected from such human diseases as influenza, measles, and tuberculosis to animal and plant diseases such as white-nose syndrome, chytridiomycosis, and wheat stem rust. Our goal will be for students to develop an appreciation of the inter-connectedness among human, animal, and plant diseases and the infectious agents that cause them to better understand contemporary drivers of disease emergence and development.


BIOG 1250:  Become a Wikipedian:  write for Wikipedia and contribute to the World’s understanding of biology, 1 cr., S/U, Spring, Fridays, 11:15-12:05, Stone Classroom, 103 Mann Library; Limited to 18 students

Kelee Lynn Pacion, Mann Library and Dr. Mark Sarvary, Investigative Lab

If you ask a biology related question, where do you go to find the answer?  Nearly 500 million people check Wikipedia every month to look for answers, explanations and definitions!  The general population might use Wikipedia to make decisions regarding health, informing their personal beliefs, and potentially influence life choices.  Did you even wonder whether that information is accurate?  This course is co-taught by Kelee Lynn Pacion from Mann library and Mark A. Sarvary from Investigative Biology, to offer you a unique opportunity to enhance your scientific literacy and become an expert in a biology topic of your interest.  You will write and edit biology related Wikipedia entries and use Wikipedia as a learning tool to develop stronger critical thinking and information literacy skills.  According to Wikipedia, “wikipedians are people who write and edit the pages for Wikipedia.”  Would you like to become a wikipedian?  If your answer is yes, sign up for this course.


BIOG 1250: Pathogen detection and surveillance, 1 cr., S/U, Spring 2015, begins Thursdays 2:30-4:25 Jan 29, 2015 and runs through March 12, 2015, B22 Plant Sciences; Limited to 15 students

Dr. Keith Perry

Pathogen detection is a critically important first step in a disease outbreak and in developing appropriate disease control measures. Surveillance to document genetic, geographic, and temporal changes in the pathogen requires a monitoring network, with detection achieved through the application of specific biochemical and biological assays.  In this course, we will focus in detail on a small number of animal and plant diseases currently under global surveillance including but not limited those associated with influenza, salmonella and stem rust of wheat.  We will also explore the various biochemical and biological assays used to monitor the pathogen.  The class is structured around reading and discussion of selected papers, with the goal of understanding the methodologies and conceptual approaches used to detect and monitor pathogen populations.


BIOG 1250: Insects in Science Fiction and Pop Culture, 1 cr., S/U, Spring 2015 Limited to 20 students, begins Thursday Jan 29, 2015 and runs through March 12, 2015, 2:30-4:25pm, 2123 Comstock Hall

Dr. Susan Villarreal

This course brings together entomology and the media arts to investigate the facts and fallacies of insect use in science fiction and popular culture. From the creature features of the 1950’s to modern day insect monsters, society has been enamored and fearful of 6-legged creatures. Throughout the course students will learn how accurate insect behavior and biology is represented in science fiction movies and TV episodes, and in what conditions might the fallacies depicted become a reality. The course will highlight specific examples of insect biology as well as general themes of how insects are portrayed. We will also explore why insects are so commonly depicted in science fiction and how their portrayal reflects on us as a culture. Course activities include viewing and discussing select movies/television series, lectures and short readings on insect biology, hands on demonstrations of insect biology, and written reflections. The goal of the course is for students to learn some basics of insect biology and behavior, as well as


BIOG 1250:  Microbes in Health and Disease, 1 cr., S/U, Spring 2015, limited to 20, begins Monday, January 26th, 2:30-4:25PM and runs for 7 weeks, Vet Research Tower room T2 002D

Dr. Lisa Bolin

Microbes are organisms that can't be seen by the naked eye.  Although infectious microbes that cause disease are the most well known and publicized, microbes can also be helpful to the organisms they infect.  In this class, we will explore both types of microorganisms by examining actual research papers and by discussing microbes recently found in the news.  Furthermore, we'll examine specific microbes to understand how they interact with each other and what are the effects on the organisms they infect.  Students will be introduced to two major types of research including basic and applied science.  Basic science is the quest for knowledge for its own sake without a specific application in mind; for example a scientist may ask why or how something works.  Applied science refers to research conducted with a specific application or goal in mind such as development of an antiviral therapy.  Overall, the class is designed to be an engaging exploration of microbes and how they cause disease, their role in human and animal health, and the contribution of the study of microbes to this knowledge while utilizing specific microbes as examples.  Students are encouraged to have fun with the class materials and will have the opportunity to continue their class discussions in online forums. 



BIOEE 1250:  Sharks; 1 cr., S/U, begins Tuesday, September 2nd, 2:00PM-4:25PM, transportation provided from Corson Hall to Liddell Laboratory and back

Dr. Willy Bemis

A six-session overview of the diversity, anatomy, ecology, and evolution of sharks and allies. Topics include: 1) the ten extant orders of sharks and their allies with an introduction to North American species; 2) dissection and study of skeletal materials in relation to functional morphology of swimming and feeding; 3) special sensory systems and behavior; 4) reproductive biology and physiology; 5) review of evolutionary relationships of extant taxa based on comparative anatomical and molecular phylogenetic approaches; 6) review tracking studies of the great white shark and other species. Course limited to six freshman or transfer students. Permission of instructor required (email Willy Bemis @ This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ).   . Prerequisite: High school biology. Course meets at Liddell Laboratory from 2:00PM to 4:30PM on Tuesday September 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 and October 7. Return transportation from Corson Hall to Liddell Laboratory will be provided.