Biology Major

Department of Biological Sciences

Department Faculty

The Biology Program

Biology encompasses the study of all living things and their interaction with the environment. The Department faculty is dedicated to providing students with a strong undergraduate education in the fundamental principles of biology, while offering opportunities and encouraging students to pursue specialized areas of interest.

The Bachelor of Science in Biology degree prepares students for future careers in life sciences research, teaching, biotechnology, conservation biology, medicine, dentistry, and allied health professions. Many graduates pursue advanced degrees in specialized areas such as cellular and molecular biology, bioinformatics, physiology, immunology, entomology, microbiology, ecology, and environmental engineering.

Within the Biology major, the Conservation Biology track prepares students for careers in fields such as habitat conservation, environmental education, and fisheries and wildlife management. Coursework for this track emphasizes the biological knowledge and skills that are most relevant for conservation practitioners. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the field, this track also includes courses related to the human dimensions of conservation, such as environmental science, GIS, and ethics. Graduates from this track are qualified for graduate study in conservation and employment with government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and educational institutions.

The biology core curriculum is designed to ensure thorough command of the scientific method and access to inquiry-based learning experiences, while providing a balanced background in cell and molecular biology, organismal biology, and ecology. Elective courses cover a wide variety of specialized topics to meet students’ particular interests in biology. An array of laboratory and field experiences further develop working knowledge of the scientific method, teach specific experimental techniques, and promote ongoing development of quantitative and analytical skills.

All of the equipment and facilities in the department are available for undergraduate student use. Collections of microscope slides, vertebrate and invertebrate specimens and an herbarium are available to enhance learning. Advanced laboratory instrumentation such as spectrophotometers, thermalcyclers, ultracentrifuges, and two electron microscopes allow students to engage in sophisticated research. The department also has appropriate field equipment for collecting biological data from the terrestrial, aquatic, and estuarine habitats surrounding campus.

Outstanding junior and senior biology majors have the opportunity to participate in the undergraduate research program. Working with a faculty mentor, the student explores the literature, defines an original research problem, and utilizes the appropriate research and analytical techniques to investigate the problem. On many occasions this work results in presentations at state, regional, and national scientific meetings. Research students who meet minimum requirements (3.0 overall GPA and a 3.25 average in biology) may pursue Honors in Biology by writing and defending a thesis on their research project. Students can also gain focused research experience via participation in the UMW Summer Science Institute. Financial support for student research is available. Additionally, biology faculty offer research opportunities through the university’s undergraduate research (URES 197) program.

The internship program also offers students an opportunity to gain valuable career related experience. Internship credits do not count towards the biology major, but many biology majors have taken advantage of this program to gain experience and to confirm their career objectives.

In addition to the “Experiential Learning” requirement course list, the department has established another mechanism by which biology majors may satisfy the experiential learning general education requirement. The Biology service learning option requires students to apply knowledge and skills acquired in their formal courses and to reflect upon how such application has augmented their education. Students will complete a service-learning contract in which they will 1) identify the agencies for which they will conduct their service, 2) indicate the biology faculty members who will evaluate the academic component of their activities, and 3) describe the duties that they will carry out for these agencies. Students must complete 40 hours of service within 12 months of submitting their contracts. Students completing their community service during their last semester must complete all requirements by March 1 (November 1 for those finishing in December). Contact the biology department chair for additional details.

Students must earn a C- or better in most BIOL required courses that serve as prerequisites for other BIOL courses. Students must also earn a C- or better in the core courses (BIOL 210, 260, 340, 341) to graduate with a degree in Biology. See also the Department of Chemistry’s minimum grade requirements for CHEM 111, 112.

Requirements for the Biology Major

Forty credits (40) in Biology. These must include BIOL 132 or 126, 210, 260, 340, 341, and 451; two laboratory classes, one designated Research Intensive (BIOL 302, 412, 427, 430, 432, 462, 472, 491). CHEM 317 counts as an elective in the BIOL major.

BIOL 121, 132, or BIOL 125, 126, and CHEM 111, 112 are prerequisites for the biology major’s core curriculum and should be taken in the student’s first year. The core courses of BIOL 210, 260, 340, and 341 are also prerequisites for various upper-level courses. and should be completed during the second year. All graduating students must participate in the assessment of the major.

Requirements for the Conservation Biology Track

A minimum of 40 credits from the following: BIOL 132 or 126, 210, 260, 341, 428 and GISC 200 or GEOG 250 or EESC 205; two diversity courses from BIOL 231, 321, 323, 425, 426, 427; one upper-level ecology course from BIOL 311, 322, 424, 323; one public policy, economic, and cultural perspectives course from ANTH 365, ECON 331, EESC 230, EESC 330, GEOG 245, HIST 322, PHIL 330; one capstone course approved by the department. Other electives that count toward the Conservation Biology track: BIOL 401, 412, EESC 210, GEOG 241; some BIOL 471 and 472 courses as approved by the department.

Biology Course Offerings

Biology course offerings will be found under the 4 letter code of BIOL in the course listings.

121Biological Concepts (4)

An introduction to biological concepts common to all organisms. Includes discussions of current topics in cellular biology, genetics, ecology, and evolution. Laboratory. Does not count toward the biology major. Credit for only one introductory biology course (121 or 125) can be counted toward degree requirements.

125, 126 –Phage Hunters I, II (4,4)

This research course sequence is designed for freshmen using a “learning by doing” approach to introductory biology. It is a hands-on, discovery course with an emphasis on critical thinking. Themes covered will be similar to BIOL 121, 132 with an emphasis on microbiology, molecular biology, genomics and bioinformatics. In the lab, students will isolate and characterize their own unique virus. Laboratory. BIOL 125 does not count toward the biology major. BIOL 126 counts toward the biology major and is a prerequisite for all other required courses in the major. Credit for only one introductory biology sequence (121-132 or 125-126) can count toward degree requirements.

127 – Human Biology (3)

Prerequisites: BIOL 121. This course will examine the structure and function of the human body, human genetics and the influence of humans on their environment. It will also examine ethical issues that affect humans in these different areas. Students may not count credit for both 132 and 127 toward degree requirements. Does not count towards biology major.

128 – Current Topics in Biology (3)

Prerequisites: BIOL 121. Courses will cover topics in biology that are current interest to non-major students.  Topics will be specifically developed to build upon basic biological concepts and will satisfy the second semester of the natural science general education requirement.  Does not count toward the biology major.

132 –  Organism Function and Diversity (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 121 (C- or better). Survey of organisms, focusing on structure, physiology, and diversity. Plant and animal form and function are emphasized. Laboratory. This course counts toward the biology major and is a prerequisite for all other required courses in the major.

203 – Science in Perspective (3)

Prerequisites: Restricted to students accepted into the M.S in Elementary Education program and who have completed their two semester natural science General Education sequence requirement. Designed to fulfill the need for non-science majors to have a clear understanding and appreciation of natural and scientific phenomenon. Topics will be presented in a manner that will challenge students to reason, make appropriate connections between various science disciplines and to effectively communicate and apply scientific principles. The course will consist of lecture/discussions and student presentations. In addition, emphasis will be placed on reading and understanding current scientific literature. Does not count toward biology major.

210 – Introduction to Ecology and Evolution (3)

Prerequisites: BIOL 126 or 132 and CHEM 111 (C- or better in each course). Introduction to ecological principles and the study of interactions of plants, animals, and microbes with each other and with their environment.

231 – Plant Biology (4)

Prerequisites: BIOL 126 or 132 ( C- or better in each course). Biological survey of plants, with a focus on flowering plants. Areas of study include anatomy, physiology, phylogenetics and evolution, and reproductive processes. Laboratory.

251 – History of Biology (3)

Prerequisites: BIOL 126 or 132 ( C- or better in each course). Chronological development of selected biological theories and their impact on contemporary biology.

260 – The Research Process (3)

Prerequisites: BIOL 126 or 132 (C- or better in each course). Survey of research practices in the biological sciences.  Covers statistical methods for data analysis and interpretation, design of surveys and experiments, and scientific communication.

271 – Special Topics (2-4)

Prerequisites: Will be determined for each specific course. Courses on particular topics in biology that are of current interest to students and faculty. Depending on the topic, the specific course may or may not count toward the biology major.

301 – Anatomy of the Chordates (4)

Prerequisites:  BIOL 126 or 132 ( C- or better in each course). The anatomy of selected Chordates with special emphasis on the Vertebrates. Lecture also examines the evolution of the organ systems of vertebrates. Laboratory.

302A – Developmental Biology (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 260, 340 and 341 (C- or better in each course).  An examination of the cellular and genetic mechanisms which control the formation of multicellular organisms during reproduction. Laboratory emphasizes scientific investigation and development of research skills in Developmental Biology. Laboratory.

311 – Plant Ecology (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 210 (C- or better). Ecological principles as applied to plants, including global plant distributions, physiological adaptations, population dynamics, and biodiversity. Laboratory focuses on hypothesis testing and experimental design. Laboratory.

312 – Plant Physiology (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 340 and 341 (C- or better in each course). Experimental and theoretical treatment of the functional mechanisms in plants. Laboratory.

321 – Invertebrate Zoology (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 210 (C- or better).  Survey of invertebrate phyla emphasizing structural characteristics, life histories, and evolutionary relationships. Laboratory.

322 – Animal Ecology (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 210 (C- or better). Introduction to sample design, population demographics, regulatory mechanisms, and survival strategies of animals. Exercises in data collection, analysis and communication of results. Laboratory.

323 – Entomology (4)

Prerequisite:  BIOL 126 or 132  and CHEM 111,112 (C- or better in each course). Introduction to structure, function and ecology of insects. Students prepare insect collections. Laboratory.

331 – Histology (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 340 (C- or better). The anatomy and physiology of vertebrate tissues, with an emphasis on human tissues. Laboratory.

334 – Exercise Physiology (3)

Prerequisite: BIOL 340 (C- or better). A study of the physiologic responses of the metabolic, cardiovascular, respiratory, muscular, and skeletal systems to acute and chronic exercise in the human.

340 – Cellular Biology (4)

Prerequisites: BIOL 126 or 132 and CHEM 112 (C- or in each course). Study of cell structure and function. Laboratory.

341 – General Genetics (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 126 or 132 and CHEM 112 (C- or better in each course). Structure, function, and transmission of genetic material using examples from viruses, bacteria, and eukaryotic organisms. Application of these principles to human inheritance. Laboratory.

342– Nutrition and Metabolism (3)

Prerequisite:  BIOL 340 (C- or better).  A study of the scientific basis for the current recommendations for a healthy diet.  Course topics include metabolic pathways, macro and micro nutrients, diet and health, and controversial topics in nutrition.

363 – Environmental Physiology (4)

Prerequisites: BIOL 126 or 132 and CHEM 112 (C- or better in each course). Experimental and theoretical treatment of environmental factors in the physiology of organisms. Laboratory.

371 – Microbiology (4)

Prerequisites: BIOL 126 or 132 and CHEM 112 (C- or better in each course). Emphasis is placed on bacteria, their morphology, physiology, nutrition, and ecology. Laboratory.

372 – Parasitology (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 126 or 132 (C- or better in each course). The structure, life histories, and host relationships of invertebrate parasitic forms. Laboratory.

384 – Human Anatomy (4)

Prerequisites:  BIOL 126 or 132 (C- or better in each course). The structure of the human body at the cell, tissue, organ, and system levels of organization. Laboratory.

385 – Human Physiology (4)

Prerequisites: BIOL 340 (C- or better). A systematic study of the physiology of the nervous system, circulation, respiration, digestion, kidney function, muscle function, integument system, homeostasis, hormonal control, and reproduction in the human body. Laboratory.

391 – Immunology (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 341 (C- or better). Introduction to the principles and theories of host defense with emphasis on humoral and cell mediated responses. Laboratory.

401 – Animal Behavior (3)

Prerequisite: BIOL 210 (C- or better). Integrative survey of the biology of animal behavior. Includes observations of animal behavior in laboratory and field settings.

410 – Neurobiology (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 340 (C- or better). Examines the structure and function of neurons, neural networks and nervous systems. The laboratory includes physiological experimentation and basic human neuroanatomy. Laboratory.

412 – Endocrinology (4)

Prerequisites: BIOL 340 (C- or better). A study of the structure and function of mammalian hormone systems, including the cellular and molecular mechanisms mediating hormone action and control. Laboratory.

424 – Tropical Ecology (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 210 (C- or better). Study of selected tropical ecosystems; exploration of these in a tropical setting; consideration of some problems, uses, and interesting facets of these ecosystems. Field Trip to Puerto Rico or other tropical locality.

425 – Vertebrate Zoology (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 210 (C- or better). A survey of the vertebrates including their natural history, evolution and taxonomy. The student will become familiar with the biological species concept, speciation and nomenclature as they apply to the vertebrates. Laboratory.

426 – Biology of Fishes (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 210 (C- or better). A survey of the fishes, including their anatomy, physiology, natural history, and systematics. The laboratory includes the collection and identification of local species. Each student will be required to develop and complete an independent project. Laboratory.

427 – Ornithology (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 210 and 260 (C- or better in each course). Comprehensive survey of the anatomy, physiology, behavior, ecology, and evolution of birds. Laboratory emphasizes scientific investigation and development of research skills in ornithology. Laboratory.

428 – Conservation Biology (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 210 (C- or better). Study of social science and natural science approaches to the conservation of biological diversity. Course topics include conservation law, conservation values, population genetics, and population dynamics. Laboratory.

430 – Molecular Biology of the Gene (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 260 and 341 (C- or better in each course).  The study of gene structure and function at the molecular level.  Laboratory emphasizes the use of molecular techniques to carry out original research on the characterization of a gene.

432 – Virology (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 260 and 341 (C- or better in each course).  The study of viruses and their replication cycles. Laboratory emphasizes scientific investigation and development of research skills in virology.

434 – Physiological Adaptations (4)

Prerequisites: BIOL 210 and 340 (C- or better in each course).  A study of the adaptations of physiological systems in animals that have evolved in diverse environments. Laboratory emphasizes hypothesis-testing and experimental design. Laboratory.

440 – Biology of Cancer (3)

Prerequisite: BIOL 341 (C- or better). Lectures and discussions focused on various aspects of cancer including epidemiology, cellular and molecular characteristics of cancer cells, carcinogenesis, treatment and prevention.

442 – Evolution (3)

Prerequisite: BIOL 341 (C- or better).  Lectures and discussion center around modern evolutionary theory and how evolutionary events are measured and documented.

443 – The Biology and Biochemistry of Proteins (3)

Prerequisites: BIOL 340 (C- or better) and CHEM 211 or CHEM 317. A study of the principles of protein structure and active site function, including a study of a the structure and function of a select group of proteins representing major protein families.  Students complete a research project involving the use of major protein databases and on-line analytical tools.

444 – Bioinformatics (3)

Prerequisites: BIOL 340 and 341 (C- or better in each course). An exploration of the rapidly growing genomics approach to biological problems. Areas of study include genome sequencing, comparative genomics, functional genomics, and diversity.  Students complete three research projects based on primary literature and utilize bioinformatics approach to analyze original data. Class time is spent on discussions, on student presentations of research project results, and in collaborative work.

451 – Seminar (2)

Prerequisite: This course is open only to senior biology majors. Preparation and presentation of an oral report on a topic in the biological sciences. Each seminar section will focus on a particular area of biology.

462 – Research Practices in Plant Ecology (4)

Prerequisites: BIOL 210; BIOL 260 (C- or better in each course). Collaborative investigation of field and ecology based problems.  Requires a significant research project conducted in a small group.  Fulfills the Research Intensive (RI) requirement of the biology major.

471 – Topics in Biology (2–4)

Prerequisites: BIOL 126 or 132 (C- or better in each course); additional prerequisites as appropriate to specific topic. Specialized topics not offered on a regular basis. Laboratory included with certain topics.

472 – Research-Intensive Topics in Biology (4)

Prerequisite: BIOL 126 or 132 and BIOL 260 (C- or better in each course); additional prerequisites as appropriate to topic).  Specialized topics not offered on a regular basis.  Requires a significant independent research project conducted individually or in groups. Fulfills the Research Intensive requirement of the biology major. Laboratory.

481 – Research Design and Proposal Development in Biology (1)

Prerequisites: BIOL 260 and permission of instructor. Students will be guided by a faculty member to read biological literature and develop a proposal for an independent research project.

482 – Literature Research in Biology (1)

Prerequisites: BIOL 260 and permission of instructor.This individually mentored course allows students to practice scientific reasoning and analysis by reading, analyzing, discussing and writing about the primary literature in a specific topic area of biology.  Students will then write a comprehensive synthesis paper detailing the state of knowledge in that particular field.

491 – Special Problems in Biology (1–3)

Prerequisite: BIOL 260 and 481, and C- or better in all BIOL courses. Individual laboratory or field investigation supervised by a staff member. Open to junior and senior majors by permission of Department. No more than six credits of BIOL 491 may be counted toward the biology major.

499 – Internship (Credits variable)

Prerequisite: Junior or senior major in good academic standing. Supervised off-campus experience, developed in consultation with the Department. Does not count toward biology major.