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Biol 470 - Information and Communication - Fall 2001

Chris Gillen
310 Higley Hall
Karen Hicks
102 Higley Hall

last update - 01/04/2002

Overview:  One of the defining characteristics of life is the capacity for receiving, storing, processing, and sharing information. This is true of the entire range of biological entities, from  macromolecules through organisms to populations. For example, the acetylcholine receptor receives information by binding acetylcholine, stores this information by altering its molecular shape, processes this infomation, and shares this information through interaction with other macromolecules. This process leads to a cellular response, the generation of an action potential. At the other end of the spectrum, an individual bird within a feeding flock receives visual information regarding the presence of a predator, stores and processes this information in its brain, and then communicates this information via an auditory signal to other members of the flock. This process results in a behavioral response, the nearly simultaneous escape flight of birds within the flock. Our aim will be to explore the fundamental principles of information and communication, integrating ideas from the entire range of biological systems. We will consider a broad range of organisms, including prokaryotes, fungi, plants, and animals.

This senior-level seminar class will rely heavily on the primary literature.  Students will orally present and critique relevant papers.   A synthetic paper (12-15 pages) will be the major course assignment.  Some class time will be devoted to "workshop" sessions where students will provide peer review on each otherís work.

Topics: Students will contribute to the selection of topics to be addressed in this course. Some general areas to be considered include

A more detailed list of topic ideas is provided at the end of this syllabus.

Text and reading: In addition to primary literature, we will use two texts for this class:

Leading class discussions: Each student will be responsible for leading seminar 2-3 times during the semester, as part of a small group (to be assigned randomly). The group will choose articles to be assigned as reading; these articles must be approved by the instructors 10 days prior to the seminar date. This reading assignment will be provided to the entire class one week prior to the seminar date.  The group will meet with the instructors before the seminar, preferably on Thursday afternoon. The group should compose two discussion questions prior to this meeting, and these discussion questions will be distributed by e-mail on the Friday preceding seminar (see weekly response papers). The group should briefly present the articles (no more than 20 minutes total), and then facilitate class discussion. Class activities that help to demonstrate concepts and provoke discussion are encouraged.

Weekly response papers: Each week you will be provided with TWO questions related to the assigned reading, to be distributed by e-mail on Friday afternoon. Write no more than a ONE PAGE response to ONE of these questions. Weekly response papers are due at the start of seminar, and will be graded for effort and thoughtfulness. Weekly response papers are not required of students who are leading discussion for the week in question.

Paper: One 12-15 page paper will be assigned, with several drafts due throughout the semester. In addition, some class time will be devoted to "workshop" sessions where students will provide peer review on each otherís work (see schedule). Students will give a brief (no more than 10 minute) PowerPoint presentation on their papers during the final week of the semester.

Participation: Class attendance and participation are a critical part of your responsibility in this seminar course, and will be included in determining your grade (see below). To participate intelligently in class, it is essential that you read and thoughtfully consider the assigned material before each class. We do not expect class participation to necessarily reflect "polished" or fully formed arguments. You are encouraged to explore an idea, suggest a possibility, or point out an area of confusion. You will not be graded on how "correct" your class participation is, but rather on how engaged you are with the material. Peer-review in the context of scheduled writing workshops is an integral part of course participation.

Grading: You are entitled to know how you are doing at any point in the class. Please see us if you are concerned about where you currently stand in this class.

Leading class discussions = 20%
Weekly response papers = 20%
Participation = 25%
Paper = 30%
Oral presentation of paper = 5%

Academic honesty: This class will follow the official Kenyon College position on academic honesty. It is your responsibility to understand and adhere to Kenyon's policies on academic honesty.

Students with special needs:If you have specific physical, psychological or learning disabilities that require an accommodation to allow you to carry out assigned course work:

Schedule: This schedule may be adjusted during the semester. Additional reading assignments in SRR and/or TL will likely likely be assigned for later class dates as we choose topics for discussion.

SRR = Songs, Roars, and Rituals: Communication in Birds, Mammals and Other Animals by Lesley J. Rogers and Gisela Kaplan

TL = The Touchstone of Life: Molecular Information, Cell Communication, and the Foundations of Life by Werner R. Loewenstein
8/27 concepts of information and communication CG & KH SRR Ch. 1, TL Ch. 1 topic brainstorming
9/3  information flow CG & KH SRR Ch. 2-3, TL Ch. 5 topic brainstorming
9/10 paradigms of communication CG & KH SRR Ch. 4-5, TL Ch. 7-9  topic due, 
topic workshop
9/17 communication 
and evolution
CG & KH SRR Ch. 6-7, TL Ch. 2-4, 6 outline due
9/24 signal to noise CG & KH
  • JA White, JT Rubenstein, and AR Key.  2000. Channel Noise in Neurons.  Trends in Neuroscience 23:  131-137.
  • U Langemann, B Gauger, and GM Klump. 1998.  Auditory sensitivity in the great tit:  perception of signals in the presence and absence of noise.  Animal Behavior 56: 763-769.
  • JK Douglass, L Wilkens, E. Pantazelou, and F Moss.  1993. Noise enhancement of information transfer in crayfish mechanoreceptors by stochastic resonance.  Nature 365: 337-340.
  • outline workshop
    10/1 signal complexity BL, MB, BR
  •  IE Somssica and K Halbrock.  1998.  Pathogen defence in plants - a pradigm of biological complexity.  TRENDS PLANT SCI 3: (3) 86-90.
  • J Yang et al.  2000. Loss of signaling through the G-protein Gz results in abnormal platelet activation and altered responses to psychoactive drugs.  PNAS 97: 9984-9989.
  • DE Irwin. 2000.  Song variation in an avian ring species.  Evolution 54: 998-1010.
  •   ---
    10/8 October break   ---   ---   ---
    10/15 host-vector and cross species comm. AN,AR,LS
  •  DW Erhardt, R Wais, and SR Long.  1996.  Calcium spiking in plant root hairs responding to Rhizobium nodulation signals.  Cell 85:  673-681.
  • T Dragic et al.  1996.  HIV-1 entry into CD4+ cells is mediated by the chemokine receptor CC-CKR-5.  Nature 381: 667-673.
  • SSR Chapter 8:  Human-animal contacts.
  • rough draft due
    10/22 biotic context 
    in signaling
    CG & KH
  • TL Ch. 10 - The Broadcasting of Cellular Information
  • Turner, R. et al.  1999.  Estrogen has rapid tissue-specific effects on rat bone.  Journal of Applied Physiology 86: 1950-1958.
  • Grinnell, Jon; McComb, Karen.  2001.  Roaring and social communication in African lions: The limitations imposed by listeners. Animal Behaviour 62: 93-98.

  • Lion roars
    rough draft
    10/29 abiotic context (harsh environments) CB, JS, DS 
  • Swarup, R, et al.  2001.  Localization of the auxin permease AUX1 suggests two functionally distinct hormone transport pathways operate in the Arabidopsis root apex.  Genes & Development 15:  2648-2653.
  • Astrup, J.  1999.  Ultrasound detection in fish: A parallel to the sonar-mediated detection of bats by ultrasound-sensitive insects?.  Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A 124:  19-27.
  • Sysoeva, MI, et al.  1999. Temperature drop, dry matter accumulation and cold resistance of young cucumber plants. Plant Growth Regulation 28: 89-94.
  • discussion leading workshop
    11/5 mating and fitness
    info flow and integration
    DS, JS, MB 
  • Tricas, Timothy C.; Michael, Scott W.; Sisneros, Joseph A.  1995. Electrosensory optimization to conspecific phasic signals for mating.  Neuroscience Letters 202: 129-132.
  • Ting, J. H.; Kelly, L. S.; Snell, T. W. 

  • 2000.  Identification of sex, age and species-specific proteins on the surface of the harpacticoid copepod Tigriopus japonicus.  Marine Biology (Berlin) 137:  31-37.
  • Bernstein, Carol; Bernstein, Harris.  1997.  Sexual communication.  Journal of Theoretical Biology 188:  69-78.
  • manuscript due
    11/12 modality CG & KH
  • von Der Emde, Gerhard; Bleckmann, Horst.  1998.  Finding food: Senses involved in foraging for insect larvae in the electric fish Gnathonemus petersii.  Journal of Experimental Biology 201: 969-980.
  • Vitha, Stanislav; Zhao, Liming; Sack, Fred David.  2000.  Interaction of root gravitropism and phototropism in Arabidopsis wild-type and starchless mutants.  Plant Physiology (Rockville) 122:  453-461.
  • Kujala, Teija; Alho, Kimmo; Naatanen, Risto. 2000.  Cross-modal reorganization of human cortical functions.  Trends in Neurosciences 23:  115-120.
  • manuscript 
    11/19 Thanksgiving   ---   ---  ---
    11/26 patterns
    info flow and integration
    BR, BL, LS
  • Pulido, Fernando J.; Diaz, Mario.  1997.  Linking individual foraging behavior and population spatial distribution in patchy environments: A field example with Mediterranean blue tits.  Oecologia (Berlin) 111:  434-442.
  • Krebs, CJ, et al.  2001.  What drives the 10-year cycle of snowshoe hares?  Bioscience 51:  25-35.
  • Hogle, JM et al.  1987.  The Structure of Poliovirus.  SCI AM 256: (3) 42-49.
  •  ---
    12/3 homeostasis AR, CB, AN 
  •  Tilman, D and JA Downing.  1994. Biodiversity and stability in grasslands.  Nature 367:  363-365.
  • Guderley, Helga; Johnston, Ian A.  1996.  Plasticity of fish muscle mitochondria with thermal acclimation.  Journal of Experimental Biology 199: 1311-1317.
  • Refinetti, Roberto.  1998.  Homeostatic and circadian control of body temperature in the fat-tailed gerbil. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology A 119:  295-300 .
  • revised 
    manuscript due
    oral presentation workshop
    12/10 class presentations     all oral