Don’t make biology boring

This was my experience – “Learning Biology by Recreating and Extending Mathematical Models”:

Although biological systems generate beautiful patterns that unfold in space and time, most students are taught biology as static lists of names. Names of species, anatomical structures, cellular structures, and molecules dominate, and sometimes overwhelm, the curriculum and the student. Cookbook labs may demonstrate advanced techniques but have a foregone conclusion. Not surprisingly, students often conclude that biology is boring.

I always liked physics much better than biology, until, after suffering through two semesters of O chem, I took biochemistry. To see how the behavior of biological molecules arose from chemical principles was an epiphany. Unfortunately, that moment in my education was an exception, because much of my subsequent coursework, and the way most biologists I knew practiced science, was focused on identifying the details of structures and the identities of molecules.

So I’m all for this:

Can biology be taught by focusing on unfolding patterns in space and time? Can one also reach students who are repelled by details; are more comfortable with abstractions and clear principles; and who often become mathematicians, physicists, or engineers? The divide between the cultures of biology and the more quantitative sciences is unfortunate because interdisciplinary opportunities are expanding. Engineers are fascinated by self-assembling, self-repairing, and self-replicating nanomachines (2), exemplified by proteins. How can these nanomachines be combined into cell-like modular reorganizing components? What is the basis for multifunctional designs that allow biological organisms to use the same neural control and periphery to flexibly switch among multiple behaviors?

Reference: Learning Biology by Recreating and Extending Mathematical Models, Hillel J. Chiel, Jeffrey P. Gill, Jeffrey M. McManus, Kendrick M. Shaw Science 25 May 2012: Vol. 336 no. 6084 pp. 993-994

Also check out their course page: https://biol300.case.edu

Author: Mike White

Genomes, Books, and Science Fiction

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