08-20 - Introduction: Key Ideas, Central Dogma and...

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Introduction: Key Ideas, Central Dogma and Educational Philosophy Life is an extraordinarily complex phenomenon. Although the study of living things dates at least as far back as Aristotle, the advent of tools which allow the interrogation of living systems in molecular detail and genomic breadth makes this a particularly exciting era in the history of biology. The purpose of this course is to help you begin to understand and appreciate our growing understanding of what living things are, what they do, and how they do it. It is perhaps the holistic nature of the subject matter that makes creating an accessible introduction biology so difficult. Understanding any aspect of living things can seem to require understanding of dozens of other aspects. There is no easy place to begin, no simple set of problems that can be grasped in isolation as a prelude to deeper understanding. A key goal of the course is to impart enough knowledge about enough different aspects of life to provide a foundation for more detailed understanding of the particulars. Much of what we will cover is a description of what and how biologists study, rather than the detailed results of those studies. You will learn some of the vocabulary of biology, and some of the major ideas, which ought to be enough so that it is possible for you to comprehend more detailed works. The study of life is really many studies: evolution, biochemistry, genetics, pathology * and ecosystems, just to name a few. We will touch on many of these topics, with an emphasis on biological molecules and their relevance to human health. One of the metaphors that we will use extensively in this course is learning biology is akin to learning a foreign language. This metaphor works at many levels. First, there is an extensive specialized vocabulary that biologists use to characterize living systems and their properties. In order to be able to understand the biological literature, it is crucial that students learn these terms and how they are used. As you will see later on, language is also a useful metaphor for understanding the structure and function of biological systems at the molecular level. The “book of life” is an apt and useful idea. We will treat learning the language of life the way one might learn a foreign language. Each week there will be a set of biological terms which you will be responsible for learning. These terms will be highlighted in the course notes, and available in list form on the web site. Also like a foreign language course, you will be responsible not only for knowing what the words mean, but how they are used in context. Vocabulary tests will make up a substantial portion of the weekly problem sets. Learning a foreign language involves more than just learning words. Languages are an intimate part of cultures, so, for example, learning French generally involves learning something about French culture as well as French words. Likewise in biology. Biologists approach scientific problems somewhat differently than physicists, chemists, and other colleagues,
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This note was uploaded on 09/20/2011 for the course CSC BIO 5099 taught by Professor Prof.larryhunter during the Fall '02 term at University of Colorado Denver.

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08-20 - Introduction: Key Ideas, Central Dogma and...

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