Wednesday, February 19, 2014

On a Cellular Level, All of My Freshmen Biology Students Are Overachievers!

In my freshman biology course (Biology 111, "The Unity of Life"), we cover a number of diverse topics in cell and molecular biology as we race along in lecture. Historically, students love the genetics section and have reservations about biochemistry and metabolism related topics.  Though I am trained as a microbial geneticist, I cannot think of a more central topic in biology than metabolism---after all, it is how the very machineries of life grind along, day after day.

I remember a cartoon on the Internet, years ago, showing the cartoon character Homer Simpson, snoring away on a hammock, with a beer can balanced on his ample belly.  The caption was "On a Cellular Level, I'm Pretty Busy."  Because it is true.  

Even while a student's attention might wander, the machinery of her or his cells are ticking along at impressive speeds.  DNA is replicating, unwinding at hundreds of thousands of RPM (without generating heat!).  Proteins are being synthesized and recycled. The endomembrane system is a complicated traffic snarl/ballet of vesicles carrying cargo to diverse destinations within the cell. 

One of the great things about Twitter is the ability to communicate with different people from all over the world.  Thus, I was able to get to know the great "Beatrice the Biologist," who does wonderful science-themed cartoons.  You should definitely check out her website here.  She wrote and illustrated a wonderful children's book about cells ("Amoeba Hugs and Other Nonsense") and recently released a truly great book for students and adults about genetics ("What's In Your Genes?").  

I told "Beatrice" about my class, and the challenges of telling my students about the intricate, active, and interrelated metabolic processes that exist in each and every one of their cells .  I then commissioned a comic from her on this topic.  Here is what she created.

Pretty much nails the concept, right?

"Beatrice" wrote about this cartoon here (again, her blog and website are very much worth your time).  

So I guess it really doesn't matter if a student is eager and overengaged, overwhelmed by new information, or not even in lecture that day. Because on a cellular level, each and every one of my students is indeed an overachiever!

Thank you, "Beatrice"!

My class thanks you, too.

Today is a good day, even with a pile of grading.

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I am happy to hear your comments and suggestions. I hope to avoid spammage. We shall see how that works out!