Department Chair:Elizabeth Wurdak

Faculty:D. Gordon Brown, Manuel Campos, Philip Chu, Larry Davis, Katie Furniss, Ellen Jensen, William Lamberts, Jeanne Marie Lust OSB, Barbara May, David Mitchell, James Poff, Michael Reagan, Charles Rodell, Stephen Saupe, Jen Schaefer, Maria Schwartz, Kristina Timmerman, Marcus Webster, Elizabeth Wurdak

The biology department offers a balanced curriculum suited to the diverse needs of our students. Our curriculum embraces the breadth of the discipline, and values both classical and modern approaches of biological inquiry. We seek to furnish students with current knowledge and technical skills, and we strive to provide opportunities for intensive studies using this expertise. Students may choose between a major or minor preparatory to specific career programs. The major sequence prepares students for graduate studies in the biological sciences and science education, and for entry into graduate schools in the allied health professions. The major and minor sequences both provide a suitable background for career areas such as business, industry, law and government service. Non-major courses are offered for students in the arts, humanities, social sciences and allied health professions.

Courses embody current biological principles and laboratory techniques. We occupy two buildings furnished with extensive laboratory equipment including transmission and scanning electron microscopes, high-pressure liquid and gas-liquid chromatographs, DNA sequencer, ultra and high speed refrigerated centrifuges, walk-in environmental, metabolic and cold chambers, bright field, dark field, fluorescence and inverted microscopes fitted with video and digital cameras, and a variety of spectrophotometers. The rural setting of the two campuses is ideal for field studies providing easy access to a variety of natural habitats, including prairie, savanna, wetlands, coniferous and deciduous forest, ponds and several lakes. The Melancon Greenhouse, a full-featured Davis weather station, Bailey Herbarium, Saint John's Arboretum, Hall Natural History Museum, and Saint John's Maple Sugar Bush and Sugar Shack provide excellent facilities for ecological and Field-research.  In addition, an extensive collection of insects, birds, and mammals support research in many areas.


The Biology Department has adopted a multifaceted approach to assessing the effectiveness of its curriculum. In addition to standard measures, such as monitoring performance on tests, the Biology Department will administer and requires:

  1. All students in 121 take a pre- and post- test of basic information that they would be expected to gain from taking this course.
  2. Seniors take a comprehensive exam during the spring semester.
  3. Students enrolled in an upper division biology course during the spring semester take the “Annual Biology Department Assessment Survey”.
  4. The department will also survey alumni at five-year intervals.

Major (45 credits)

Required Courses:
121, 221 and 222 as a basic introductory sequence; 1 credit of 348; and a minimum of five biology courses at the 300 level, totaling at least 20 credits, chosen in consultation with an advisor in the department.

For the biology major, the lower-division courses are designed to provide a broad background in basic biological concepts. The upper-division requirements are designed to offer a more in depth exposure to the principal disciplines within biology and permit some specialization along lines of individual interest. Biology majors are encouraged to attend departmental seminars featuring presentations by outside speakers and to participate in independent research in the field or lab. Seminar attendance is required for students enrolled in BIOL 348. 

Students may apply only onecourses from the following toward the major: 323 or 326.

Special Requirements:
The close interrelationship of biology to other disciplines requires that majors complete two courses in chemistry (CHEM 125 and 234) and one course in mathematics (MATH 118, 119, or 124).

Strongly recommended are courses in organic chemistry (CHEM 235 and 236 or equivalent courses under the new Chemistry curriculum (Reactivity 1 &2) and physics (PHYS 105 and 106). Students intending to continue in graduate or professional school should design appropriate programs of study with the assistance of a biology department advisor.

Minor (24 credits)

Required Courses:
121, 221, 222 and three 4-credit upper-division electives.

Courses (BIOL)

106 Plants and Humans. (4)
An introduction to plant science featuring horticultural techniques and plants that have impacted society. Intended for non-majors. Lecture and laboratory.

107 Field Biology. (4)
An introduction to the natural history of plants and animals with an emphasis on the ecosystems of Central Minnesota. The laboratory is field-oriented, concentrating on developing an understanding of basic ecological interactions. Intended for non-majors. Lecture and laboratory.

108 Microbes and Human Affairs. (4)
An examination of the role microorganisms play in various aspects of human affairs. Consideration will be given to both the beneficial activities and the harmful effects of microbes. The laboratory emphasizes the morphological diversity and physiological activities of microorganisms. Intended for non-majors. Lecture and laboratory.

109 Environmental Science. (4)
A survey of the scientific basis of human interactions with nature. Topics include global environmental problems analysis of local and regional issues, population biology and conservation of ecological systems. Intended for non-majors. Lecture and laboratory.

110 Life Science. (4)
Exploration of fundamental principles and processes of biology through their application to biological topics of interest to the liberal arts student. The concepts and topics examined will help students to interpret and understand important scientific events affecting society. Intended for non-majors. Lecture and laboratory.

112 Human Biology. (4)
Human biology has as its goal an understanding of the biology of the human organism. Emphasis is on genetics, embryology, endocrinology, physiology, anatomy and environmental factors that influence and affect humans. Intended for non-majors. Lecture and laboratory. Fall and/or spring.

121 Introduction to Cell and Molecular Biology. (4)
An introduction to biological chemistry, cell structure, metabolism, classical and molecular genetics. Laboratories provide the students with opportunities to investigate living organisms at a cellular and molecular level. Intended for science majors. Fall.

173 Biological Topics. (1-4)
Introduction to general topics or techniques in biology that are not covered in departmental courses. May be offered on campus or as an off-campus learning experience. Topics may be either student- or faculty-originated. Open to all majors. Prerequisites: none.

212 Microbiology. (4)
Survey of microorganisms emphasizing those that cause disease. Topics include morphology and physiology of microorganisms, sterilization, disinfection, and specific diseases and their causative agents. Laboratory work emphasizes aseptic technique. Intended for pre-nursing students. Prerequisite: A grade of C or better in BIOL 121. Spring.

221 Introduction to Organismal Biology. (4)
An introduction to the major challenges faced by multicellular organisms such as gas exchange, transport, movement, response to the environment, resource acquisition, homeostasis, and reproduction. Laboratories provide opportunities to study form and function of both plants and animals. Intended for science majors. Prerequisites: 121 or consent of department chair. Spring.

222 Introduction to Ecology, Evolution, and Diversity. (4)
An introduction to ecology at the population, community, and ecosystem levels, micro and macroevolution, and evolutionary relationships among organisms. Laboratories provide opportunities to study these topics at the bench and in the field. Prerequisites: 121.

235  Human Anatomy and Physiology I. (4)
Integrated study of cells, tissues, organs, and systems of the human body, with emphasis placed on structure-function relationships.  Major concepts stressed are how function at the cellular level governs events observable at the tissue, organ, or systemic tier, and physiological mechanisms necessary for homeostasis.  Topics covered include excitable tissue, skeletal system, nervous system, muscular system, endocrine system.  Laboratory component involves dissection exercises, study of human models, and inquiry-based investigations of muscle physiology and nervous system function.  Prerequisites:  121, 221 and CHEM 123 or instructor's consent.  Fall.

271 Individual Learning Project. (1-4)
Supervised reading or research at the lower-division level. Permission of department chair required. Does not count toward major requirements. Not available to first-year students.

300 Protist Diversity. (4).
A survey of the protists; organisms traditionally known as algae, protozoans, and zoosporic fungi.  Protists play many important ecological roles (as human parasites, primary producers, beneficial mutualists, plant pathogens etc.), and are the ancestors of animals, plants, and fungi.  Special attention is given to their morphology, evolution, ecology, and importance to humans.  Prerequisite: 222.  Spring.

302 Fungal Diversity. (4). 
A survey of the various groups of organisms that belong to the kingdom Fungi.  Special attention is given to their morphology, taxonomy, phylogeny, ecology and importance to humans.  Laboratories include examination of living and prepared specimens as well as experimental work with fungi.  Prerequisite: 222.  Spring.

304 Evolution of Land Plants.  (4).
An overview of the evolution of the major groups of terrestrial plants from their green algal ancestors.  Special attention is given to their morphology, taxonomy, phylogeny, ecology, and importance to humans.  Laboratories entail the examination of living and prepared specimens.  Prerequisite: 222. Spring.

305 Invertebrate Zoology. (4)
Classification, evolution, structure, life cycles and ecology of representative invertebrate animals. Laboratories include a study of representative species from major taxa. Prerequisites: 121 and 221. Spring.

306 Plant Diversity. (4)
An evolutionary survey of the organisms traditionally referred to as plants: algae, fungi, bryophytes and vascular plants. Special attention is given to their morphology, taxonomy, phylogeny, ecology and importance to humans. Laboratories entail the examination of microscopic living and preserved specimens. Prerequisite: 222. Spring.

307 Biology of Microorganisms. (4)
Morphology and physiology of the representative microbial groups. Special topics include host-parasite relationships, microbial genomics and the role of microorganisms as agents of geochemical change. Laboratory will stress techniques of culturing, identification and molecular methods used in microbiology. Prerequisites: 121, 221 and CHEM 235 or instructor's consent. Fall.

308 Plant Systematics. (4)
A study of the principles of naming, identifying and classifying flowering plants with an emphasis on the characteristics and phylogeny of select families. Laboratory and field work provide an opportunity to prepare herbarium specimens, use dichotomous keys, and learn the local flora. Prerequisites: 121 and 221 or 222. Fall.

309 Biology of Insects. (4)
Examination of the morphology, systematics, behavior, ecology, evolution and economic importance of major groups. Laboratory and field studies of local insects. Prerequisite: 222. Fall.

311 Cell Biology. (4)
A study of the organization and function of plant and animal cells, emphasizing the experimental basis of current concepts in cell biology. Laboratory work includes light and electron microscopy, cell culture, cytochemistry and other techniques of cellular investigation. Prerequisites: BIOL 121, 221 and CHEM 234. Fall.

315 Virology. (4)
Structure and chemical composition of viruses. Host-virus interactions with emphasis on bacterial and animal viruses, subviral particles and viral evolution. Laboratory focuses on techniques for culturing and characterizing bacterial viruses. Prerequisites: 121 and 221. Fall.

316 Genetics. (4)
The principles and applications of gene transmission, structure, expression, and regulation represent the primary focus of this course. The laboratory serves to illustrate the application of main concepts. Prerequisite: 121. Fall and spring.

317 Biochemistry. (4)
Lecture and laboratory study of the chemical characteristics of biological molecules with emphasis on bioenergetics, enzymes, metabolic pathways and integration, biological signals and membrane receptors. Prerequisites: 121, 221, and CHEM 235 or instructor's consent. Fall and spring.

318 Molecular Genetics. (4)
Lecture and laboratory study of the structure of DNA and RNA, the regulation of gene expression, and the organization and function of genomes in eukaryotes and prokaryotes. Laboratory techniques and applications include DNA and RNA manipulations, recombinant DNA technology, and analysis of nucleic acid and protein sequence. Prerequisites: 121, 221, and CHEM 235 or instructor's consent. Spring.

319 Basic Immunology. (4)
A study of the initiation and the biological/chemical aspects of the immune response. Emphasis is placed on cells and cellular interactions, immunoglobulin structure, immunological assays and cell-mediated immunity. Attention will be given to hypersensitivities, autoimmunity and tumor and transplant immunology. Prerequisites: 121, 221 and CHEM 235 or instructor’s consent. Spring.

322 Developmental Biology. (4)
Mechanisms by which a fertilized egg becomes a mature organism are explored at both the molecular and cell-tissue level. These patterns and principles of development are considered for a variety of animal species. Laboratories include observation of normal development and experimental manipulations of the normal processes. Prerequisites: 121 and 221. Fall.

323 Animal Physiology. (4)
Structure, function and physiological adaptations in a variety of animals including humans. Metabolism, cardiovascular physiology, nerve and muscle function, salt and water balance, excretion, temperature regulation and endocrinology. Prerequisite: 222 or permission of instructor. Spring.

326 Human Anatomy and Physiology II. (4)
Integrated study of cells, tissues, organs, and systems of the human body, with emphasis placed on structure-function relationships. Major concepts stressed are how function at the cellular level governs events observable at the tissue, organ, or systemic tier, and physiological mechanism necessary for homeostasis. Topics covered include the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, digestive system, urinary system, reproductive system and water, electrolyte and acid-base balance. Laboratory component involves dissection exercises, study of human models, inquiry-based investigations of cardiovascular, respiratory, and urinary system physiology, and a group independent research project. Prerequisite: 325 or instructor’s consent. Spring.

327 Plant Physiology. (4)
A study of how plants function and grow. Topics include metabolism, water relations, growth and development, gas exchange and responses to the environment. Laboratory provides a hands-on opportunity to work with plants and learn basic physiological techniques. Prerequisites: 121 and 221. Spring.

329 Histology and Technique. (4)
Investigation of tissue characteristics, development, and interrelationships. Extensive laboratory experience in applicable microtechnique. Prerequisites: 121 and 221. Spring.

330 Comparative Anatomy of Vertebrates. (4)
The comparative structure and development of vertebrates, examined within the context of vertebrate phylogeny. Laboratory dissection of representative vertebrates. Prerequisite: 221 or 222. Fall.

332 Natural History of Terrestrial Vertebrates. (4)
Amphibians, reptiles (including birds), and mammals comprise the Tetrapoda, or terrestrial-vertebrate group. In this course we examine tetrapod evolution, anatomy, physiological strategies, ecology, and behavior. Laboratories emphasize identification of, and field experience with, the tetrapods of central Minnesota. Prerequisite: 222 or instructor's consent. Spring.

334 General Ecology. (4)
An exploration of the historical, theoretical and empirical development of the science of ecology. Topics include dynamics of populations, interactions among species, and the organization and function of ecosystems. We devote special attention to the interplay between theoretical and empirical studies, with emphasis upon current research whenever possible. In the laboratory, students are expected to work in teams to design and implement a research project and present their findings in a public forum. Prerequisites: 222, or ENVR 175 and 275. Recommended: MATH 118, 119 or 124, and familiarity with spreadsheet software. Fall.

336 Behavioral Ecology. (4)
A study of animal behavior with emphasis on the ways in which the ecological circumstances surrounding animals help shape their behavior. Laboratory experience in the observation and analysis of behavior in living organisms. Prerequisite: 121 or ENVR 175. Spring.

337 Aquatic Ecology. (4)
An exploration of the ecology of lakes, streams, wetlands and other aquatic ecosystems. Topics include lake ontogeny, physical limnology, ecological interactions in lakes and streams and lake management. Laboratories take place on campus lakes, on shore and in the lab. Prerequisites: 222 or ENVR 175 and 275. Fall.

338 Plant-Animal Interactions. (4)
An exploration of the ecological and evolutionary aspects of the diverse interactions between plants and animals. Topics covered include coevolution, plant-herbivore relationships, pollination, seed dispersal, and plant-animal mutualisms. Discussion and critical evaluation of historical and current primary literature is emphasized. In the laboratory, students are expected to help design, implement, analyze, and present several class research projects. Prerequisites: 222, or ENVR 175 and 275. Spring.

339 Evolution. (4)
This course provides an historical background for evolutionary theory, surveys the evidence for evolution, and emphasizes the processes of genetic change and speciation. Prerequisite: 222, or consent of instructor. Spring.

340 Invertebrate Paleontology. (4)
Study of the evolution, paleoecology, and paleogeography of the first four billion years of life on Earth. The focus will be on invertebrate paleontology, with reference to vertebrate and plant fossils. Field trip and laboratory required. Prerequisite: 222, or GEOL 212. Alternate fall semesters.

341 Natural History of Tropical Carbonate Ecosystems. (2)
This course provides students with an introduction to the unique ecology and geology of tropical marine carbonate ecosystems, with an emphasis on those of the Bahamas. Topics covered include the evolution of reefs and reef-building organisms, geological history of the Bahamas, and the natural history of modern reef, mangal, and seagrass ecosystems. Environmental challenges facing these ecosystems will also be considered. The course requires participation in a field trip to San Salvador Island, Bahamas, or another tropical carbonate system. As part of the field trip, students will participate in a research project that involves monitoring of the ecological status of a tropical carbonate ecosystem. Prerequisite: BIOL 222, GEOL 212, or ENVR 175/275. Spring semester. Cross-listed with ENVR 341.

347 Journal Club. (1)
Preparation of a paper and a seminar presentation on a topic of current biological interest. Source materials will be the current research literature. Restricted to juniors or seniors only.

348 Biology Seminar Series. (1)
This course consists of attendance at department sponsored seminars and seminar preparation sessions. At the preparation sessions students will familiarize themselves with the seminar topic through appropriate readings and discussion with faculty. Restricted to juniors or seniors. Fall and Spring.

Independent study procedures:  (371, 372, 373, and 374)
Students interested in doing independent work for credit may do so by registering for 371, 372, 373, or 374. The proposal for a project must be prepared in detailed form and submitted to a potential faculty moderator and the department chair at least two weeks before any registration period begins. Department approval must be obtained before registration. These courses are not available to first-year students.

371 Individual Learning Project. (1-4)
Supervised reading or research at the upper-division level. Permission of department chair and completion and/or concurrent registration of 12 credits within the department required. Credits in 371 cannot be applied towards major requirements.

372 Biological Research. (1-4)
Original research conducted under the supervision of a staff member. Students will design their own project in consultation with their moderator. Permission of department chair required. Credits in 372 may be applied towards major requirements.

373 Special Topics in Biology. (1-4)
Readings and discussions in either broad or specific areas of biology not covered in departmental courses. Topics may be either student-or faculty-originated.

374 Biological Techniques. (1-2)
Independent work to develop expertise in special techniques such as electron microscopy, chromosome preparation, tissue culture, and the preparation of specimens of plants, insects or vertebrates. S/U grading only; does not count toward the biology major.

379  Natural History of Maple Syrup. (1).
A springtime ritual throughout NE United States, including St. John's, is the production of maple syrup from the sap of the sugar maple tree.  This course provides an introduction to the history of the process, methods for producing syrup, and the biological and chemical principles underlying the production of sap and syrup.  Prerequisites: 121 and either 221 or 222.  Spring (C mod).

398 Honors Senior Essay, Research or Creative Project. (4)
Required for graduation with "Distinction in Biology." Prerequisite: HONR 396 and approval of the department chair and director of the Honors Thesis program. For further information see HONR 398.