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NOTE: This page contains information from the 2012-2013 Catalog. It remains available for archival purposes only. For the most current WC Catalog content, please visit http://catalog.washcoll.edu and download this year’s edition.
Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics


The biology major is designed to provide the student with a strong and broad background in biology and related fields while providing opportunities for students to specialize in an area of interest. The curriculum emphasizes knowledge of biological principles and concepts, familiarity with the practice of biology as a hypothesis-driven science, and the ability to effectively communicate scientific information. With careful course selection guided by a departmental advisor, students may prepare themselves for employment in a biologically-oriented profession, graduate work in biology and related fields, professional training in medicine and other health-related fields, or a career in secondary education.

Students have two options for the degree. First, the department offers a B. S. in Biology in which students can choose electives from all areas giving them a general background, or they may select electives from one area, such as cell and molecular biology or ecology, thus specializing in that area. The second degree option is a B. S. in Biology with a Concentration in Biochemistry for students with a strong interest in studying biology at the chemical level.

Courses offered in the biology department range from introductory level courses for non-majors and majors to advanced courses in various fields of biology. Undergraduate research opportunities are available in departmental laboratories during both the academic year and the summer. Students can also participate in internships sponsored by off-campus laboratories through existing programs or those proposed by the student. A chapter of Beta Beta Beta, the national biological honor society, provides supplemental activities for students.

The nearby Chester River, a major tributary to the Chesapeake Bay, affords excellent opportunities for ecological studies in a wide variety of biological subdisciplines. Another resource is the Virginia Gent Decker Arboretum, the collection of trees and shrubs on the college campus, in which students can also study a broad range of topics. Collaborative student-faculty research is an important focus of the department and the new Toll Science Center boasts personal labs for each of the faculty and a number of shared research spaces including a set of microsuites (DNA sequencing, fluorescence microscopy, cell and tissue culture, and histology), the aquatic research facility, and a spacious research greenhouse.

Requirements For The B.S. In Biology

To meet course requirements for the biology major, students must complete General Biology (BIO 111,112), seven upper-level biology courses, and supporting courses in chemistry and mathematics. The seven upper-level biology courses must include Ecology (BIO 206), Genetics (BIO 305), one course in addition to Genetics from the Cellular Biology Category (Category II), one course from the Organismal Biology Category (Category III), and two additional courses chosen from any course offering in Categories I (Ecology/Evolutionary Biology), II, or III. The remaining course may be any upper-level departmental offering (Categories I through V). All upper-level courses for the major must be taken at Washington College or in Washington College-approved programs although exceptions may be made by the department chair for transfer students. Required chemistry courses include General Chemistry I and II (CHE 111, 112) and Organic Chemistry I and II (CHE 201, 202). Differential Calculus (MAT 201) is also required. In addition, all majors must complete the Biology Seminar (BIO 453, 454) in each semester of the senior year.

General Physics (PHY 111, 112) is recommended as it is required for admission to medical school, many graduate programs, and some allied health programs. In addition, a course in statistics is recommended for all biology majors.

Students should consult with the appropriate departmental advisor (listed on the departmental Web page at biology.washcoll.edu) early in their academic career to assist them in preparing for internships and admission to graduate schools and professional programs. Students are also encouraged to discuss options concerning research opportunities and career choices with members of the department.

Senior Capstone Experience

Each student must successfully fulfill the Department’s Senior Capstone Experience (SCE). Students will enroll in the four-credit SCE course during their final semester, although work on the SCE and related Senior Seminar (BIO 453, 454) meetings will span the entire final academic year. The SCE for a biology major may be satisfied (1) by completing an independent laboratory or field research project, (2) by writing an in-depth scientific monograph or (3) by completing comprehensive exams and literature analyses. The comprehensive exams are in General Biology, Ecology, Genetics, and one course selected by the student. All SCEs are under the direction of a faculty member. Students must receive project approval from a sponsoring faculty member and the departmental chair. Guidelines for the Biology SCE, including requirements for receipt of honors, are distributed to all rising seniors and are posted on the departmental Web page.

Requirements For The B.S. In Biology With A Concentration In Biochemistry

Students who complete the concentration in biochemistry will meet the requirements for both the major in biology and the minor in chemistry.

The major in biology with a concentration in biochemistry requires completion of the following courses: General Biology (BIO 111,112), Cell Biology (BIO 205), Genetics (BIO 305), Biochemistry (BIO 409), three additional upper-level biology courses, and six supporting courses in chemistry and two in mathematics. The additional upper-level biology courses must include one course from the Ecology/Evolutionary Biology Category (Category I), one additional course from the Cellular Biology Category (Category II), and one course from the Organismal Biology Category (Category III). Required chemistry courses include General Chemistry (CHE 111,112), Organic Chemistry (CHE 201,202), Analytical Chemistry (CHE 301), and The Chemistry of Biological Compounds (CHE 303). All upper-level courses in biology and chemistry that count toward the major must be taken at Washington College or Washington College-approved programs although exceptions may be made by the department chair. Required mathematics courses include Differential Calculus (MAT 201) and Integral Calculus (MAT 202). The concentration also requires Biology Seminar (BIO 453, 454) in each semester of the senior year. The Senior Capstone Experience must be based in the field of biochemistry for either the research project or the monograph or must include comprehensive exams in General Biology, Genetics, a Category I course selected by the student, and Biochemistry. Two semesters of General Physics (PHY 111,112) are highly recommended. Requests to substitute a class not listed above for one of the requirements may be considered by the program advisor.

Requirements For The Biology Minor

The course requirements for the biology minor include General Biology (BIO 111,112) and five upper-level biology courses. By petition of the biology department, an appropriate upper-level course in chemistry, psychology, or environmental studies may be substituted for one of the required advanced biology courses. Students planning on using the biology minor as a basis for further studies in the biological sciences or for employment should seriously consider taking a year of General Chemistry (CHE 111, 112). All students should note that CHE 111, 112 is a prerequisite for some upper-level biology courses.

Writing in the Discipline

The Biology Department emphasizes the importance of effective writing in the discipline in the design of the curriculum for the biology major. Writing appropriate to the field of biology is a key component of all majors-level courses, from the introductory General Biology sequence (BIO 111, 112) through the upper level biology courses, the two-semester Biology Seminar required of all seniors (BIO 001, 002), and Senior Capstone Experience. Some upper level courses are designated as writing intensive, but all courses in the major emphasize the development of writing skills. Through a combination of required and elective courses, students learn how to maintain laboratory notebooks; write abstracts, lab reports and research papers; and prepare poster presentations and the written backdrop to oral presentations.

Categories Of Study

Category I: Ecology

  • BIO 206. Ecology
  • BIO 309. Marine and Estuarine Biology

Category II: Cellular Biology

  • BIO 203. Microbiology
  • BIO 205. Cell Biology
  • BIO 207. Biotechnology and Molecular Biology
  • BIO 302. Developmental Biology
  • BIO 305. Genetics
  • BIO 310. Microbial Ecology
  • BIO 404. Immunology
  • BIO 409. Biochemistry

Category III: Organismal Biology

  • BIO 211. Plant Biology
  • BIO 301. Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy
  • BIO 303. Parasitology
  • BIO 304. Invertebrate Zoology
  • BIO 336. Ichthyology
  • BIO 424. Comparative Animal Physiology

Category IV: Seminars (excluding summer field courses)

  • BIO 394. Special Topics in Biology (non-laboratory bearing course)
  • BIO 415-90. Evolutionary Biology - Honors

Category V: Research/ Independent Study/ Internship/Summer Field Courses

  • BIO 210. Community Ecology of Coastal Maine (summer field course)
  • BIO 221. The Bermuda Environment (summer field course)
  • BIO 395. Summer Research
  • BIO 397. Independent Study
  • BIO 490. Biology Internship
  • BIO 495. Independent Research

Course Descriptions

BIO 100 and 104 are distribution courses, and do not count toward the major or minor in biology.

100. Current Topics in Biology

An introduction to some of the fundamental principles and concepts of modern biology with emphasis on three dominant themes: cell biology, genetics, and animal physiology. The application of biological phenomena to everyday life will be emphasized. The laboratory will explore topics introduced in lecture and expose students to investigative learning.

104. Ecology of the Chesapeake Bay

A detailed exploration of the unique features and history of the Chesapeake Bay to demonstrate the dynamic interrelationships between ecology and human affairs. Topics include ecological principles, pollution, endangered species, conservation practices, and public policy. A regularly scheduled laboratory session will complement the lecture.

BIO 111, 112 are also for distribution and along with all upper-level courses (200-level and above) will count toward the major and minor in biology. Introductory courses and many upper-level courses are offered annually, while other courses are offered on an alternate year basis. For planning purposes, information about the semester/year in which a course is to be offered is available on the departmental Web page.

111, 112. General Biology

This course provides an introduction to living systems. Topics studied include biomolecules, cell structure and function, metabolism, genetics and molecular biology (111) and diversity of life, physiology of plants and animals, evolution, and ecology (112). The laboratory complements the lecture and also provides an introduction to experimentation and communication of experimental results. These courses are designed for students with a strong interest in the biological sciences and are prerequisites for upper-level biology courses. An honors section of BIO 111 and of BIO 112 is offered. Biology 111 or permission of instructor is required for Biology 112.

203. Microbiology

A study of microorganisms (viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protists). Topics include microbial physiology, metabolism, growth, and genetics; infectious diseases; interaction of the microbe and host; and environmental microbiology. The laboratory portion of the course emphasizes staining techniques; culture methods; environmental, food, and medical microbiology; identification of unknown bacteria; and an independent research project. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112.

205. Cell Biology

An examination of the structure and function of cells. Topics covered will include the various chemical components and physical factors which contribute to cell structure and function. Lectures will also include surveys of cellular diversity and subcellular organization, including organelles, membranes, and the cytoskeleton. The laboratory explores these components using microscopy, tissue culture, and molecular techniques. Biology 205 provides a broad foundation for subsequent cellular, molecular, biochemical and genetics courses. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112.

206. Ecology

A study of the fundamentals of ecology. Topics include the relationship between organisms and their physical environments; population growth, regulation, and interactions; the nature and diversity of biological communities; and ecosystem structure and function. Approximately half of the weekly laboratories will involve off-campus field trips for the collection of data from various ecosystems, while the remaining half will involve processing of collected data. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112.

207. Biotechnology and Molecular Biology

This course introduces the tools and techniques of biotechnology. While the discipline of biotechnology is founded in molecular biology, its tools can be applied to tackle problems in all branches of biology from cell biology to evolution. This course provides the conceptual background for understanding the basis of biotechnology and emphasizes laboratory activities related to DNA and DNA-RNA-protein interconnections. Students will learn standard techniques in DNA analysis and cloning. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112.

210. Community Ecology of Coastal Maine

This summer course focuses on the biological communities of coastal Maine as represented by the communities within Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, ME. Students visit and characterize many of the diverse forest and marine communities represented on the island. The course begins with a consideration of the geological, oceanographic and climatic features of coastal Maine. Other topics considered in lecture and through data collection and observation in the field include succession, disturbance, species diversity, vertical and horizontal community structure, physical and biological stresses on communities, bottom-up and top-down regulation of community structure, and competitive and positive interactions among species. Prerequisite: Biology 112.

211. Plant Biology

An introduction to plants emphasizing their diversity, structure, function, and ecology. The laboratory includes field trips to collect local flora and explores plant cells and tissues, physiological processes and environmental influences on growth and metabolism. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112.

221. The Bermuda Environment

This summer course will investigate the complex ecology of the Bermuda Islands, the impact that human habitation has had on their natural history, and current environmental concerns and means of mitigating those concerns. Major areas of study will include (but not be limited to) coral reef ecology/symbioses, mangrove community ecology and environmental relevance, architectural and military influences during colonization, fisheries practices (past, present and future) and current concerns and problems, and ecotourism and associated environmental impacts. (Also ENV 221) Prerequisite: Environmental Studies 101, or Biology 111-112, or permission of the instructor.

200-level courses with the exception of off-campus courses can be used as prerequisites for 300- and 400-level courses.

301. Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy

A comparative study of the major body systems of vertebrates, with emphasis placed on system structure, function, and evolutionary modification across vertebrate phylogeny. Laboratory work consists of detailed systems-level examination and comparative dissection in numerous representative vertebrates. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112 and one 200-level biology course.

302. Developmental Biology

Examines embryo development, focusing on cellular and regulatory mechanisms that guide the process. We will cover the events of development from fertilization through organogenesis in a range of animal systems including sea urchins, Drosophila, amphibians, chickens and mammals.  This course will also examine the role of developmental biology in medicine including stem cells.  The laboratory portion is an investigative approach to the study of animal development, emphasizing cellular and molecular techniques that will complement many of the topics covered in lecture using sea urchin and chicken animal models. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112 and one 200-level biology course. Biology 205 recommended.

303. Parasitology

An introduction to the phenomenon of parasitism, the study of parasites and their relationships to hosts. Lecture and laboratory studies emphasize the morphology, taxonomy, life history, and host-parasite relationships of protozoa, helminths, and arthropods of medical and veterinary importance. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112 and one 200-level biology course.

304. Invertebrate Zoology

A study of the basic patterns of form and function that characterize the major groups of invertebrate animals. Lecture and laboratory work will include invertebrate functional morphology, reproduction, development, evolution, and ecology. Emphasis will be on the diverse adaptations of invertebrates to the aquatic and terrestrial habitats in which they live. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112 and one 200-level biology course.

305. Genetics

A study of heredity in cells, individuals, and populations, and of the molecular expression of genes. The course emphasizes genetic analysis in both lab and lecture. Topics in the laboratory include experiments in transmission, population, cellular, and molecular genetics using a variety of organisms as models. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112 and two upper-level biology courses or permission of the instructor. Corequisite: Chemistry 112.

309. Marine and Estuarine Biology

A study of marine and estuarine ecosystems. The biological, chemical, and physical parameters influencing these ecosystems will be discussed and the natural history, physiology, and ecology of selected ecosystems, invertebrate, and vertebrate phyla will be emphasized. About one-half of the laboratory will be spent in off-campus field trips and will include a two-or three-day mandatory trip to a field station. There will be some extra expense to the student, probably not more than $80. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112 and one 200-level biology course.

310. Microbial Ecology

A study of microbes, particularly the bacteria, fungi, and protists, and their relationship to the natural environment. Specific topics include microbes in terrestrial and aquatic habitats; microbial interactions with other microbes, plants, and animals; microbial enumeration and activity determination; and biogeochemical cycling. These topics will be explored with emphasis on microbial physiology, metabolism, and adaptation. The laboratory portion of the course will focus on the Chesapeake Bay region and will include an independent research project. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112 and one 200-level biology course. Biology 203 recommended.

336. Ichthyology

Ichthyology encompasses the study of fishes. Topics will include the systematics, physiology, behavior, ecology, and evolution of this diverse group. Identification of specimens during a weekly lab will familiarize students with the major fishes of the Chesapeake region. A multi-week independent project will familiarize students with the scientific method and with aspects of fish behavior. Field trips to the fish collection at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the largest in the world, and to the National Aquarium in Baltimore will broaden the perspective of the course. There may be some additional cost to the students for these trips, though not more than $50. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112 and one 200-level biology course.

404. Immunology

An examination of the specific defense system of mammals. Topics include leukocyte characteristics and their responses to antigen; antigen characteristics; antibody structure, diversity, function, genetics, and synthesis; the major histocompatibility complex; vaccines; and disorders of the immune system. The laboratory focuses on animal handling, antibody purification, and detection of antigen-antibody interactions. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112 and one 200-level biology course. Corequisite: Chemistry 112.

409. Biochemistry (CHE 309)

An examination of living systems at the chemical level. Topics will include structure and function of macromolecules, cellular energetics, cellular respiration, with a particular focus on protein structure and enzyme function. A laboratory will be conducted weekly to introduce students to experimental techniques and molecular modeling. Prerequisite: Biology 111 and Chemistry 202.

415. Evolutionary Biology - Honors

Evolutionary Biology is a seminar-style class revolving around discussion of readings from popular literature and scientific papers drawn from the primary literature. Topics of consideration will include natural selection, sexual selection, speciation, the co-evolution of man and disease, the selfish gene, and battle of the sexes as it is fought on the molecular level. The course will include a number of short writing assignments. Periodic Friday recitation sessions will be used for debates, oral presentations, videos, and other activities. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112 and two 200-level biology courses, college GPA of 3.4 or higher.

424. Comparative Animal Physiology

A comparative study of physiological processes in animals. Topics will include gas exchange, circulation, water and ion balance, and excitable cells. As a comparative study, we will examine a variety of animals that are adapted to function in diverse environments. A weekly laboratory illustrates physiological principles. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112 and two 200-level biology courses.

453, 454. Biology senior seminar

Biology majors participate with faculty in the department’s weekly Biology Seminar in each semester of the senior year. Instruction focuses on searching the biological literature, reading of primary literature, and writing appropriate to the discipline. Students discuss readings and make oral and poster presentations. Biology senior seminar is a non-credit bearing course.

Special Courses

190, 290, 390, 490. Biology Internship

An internship developed by a faculty mentor and student in close consultation with the supervisor at the internship site. A learning contract will be developed prior to enrollment in the course. Evaluation of student performance will be completed by the faculty mentor based on fulfillment of the contract terms and written evaluation by the internship site supervisor. Not offered as Pass/Fail. Prerequisite: Permission of faculty mentor.

194, 294, 394, 494. Special Topics in Biology

The study of areas in biology that are not regularly offered in the curriculum. Courses may be interdisciplinary, seminar or summer field-type courses. Prerequisite: Biology 111-112, or permission of instructor.

195, 295, 395, 495. On-campus Research

A ten-week on-campus summer research project to be guided by a faculty mentor. Based on mutual interests, the student and faculty mentor will develop a research project, supported by a reading list and involving theoretical, laboratory, or field investigations. Participants will produce a final report detailing the findings of their research. Selection of students will depend on academic background, scholastic achievement, and the results of a personal interview with the faculty mentor. Not offered as Pass/Fail. Prerequisite: Permission of faculty mentor.

196, 296, 396, 496. Off-campus Research

The course consists of an individual research project chosen by the student in consultation with a faculty mentor. The project involves the design and performance of an experiment or experimental series and submission of a written report. Not offered as Pass/Fail. Prerequisite: Permission of faculty mentor, academic advisor, and biology department chair.

197, 297, 397, 497. Independent Study

The in-depth study of an area of particular interest to a student and faculty mentor not covered by the regular curriculum. Not offered as Pass/Fail. Prerequisite: Permission of faculty mentor, academic advisor, and biology department chair.

SCE. Senior Capstone Experience

Each student must successfully fulfill the Department’s Senior Capstone Experience (SCE). Students will enroll in the four-credit SCE course during their final semester, although work on the SCE and related Senior Seminar (BIO 453, 454, which introduces the basic skills and information concerning the SCE) will span the entire final academic year.