General Biology (2010/2011)

Course code
Name of lecturers
Elisabetta Trabetti, Cristina Bombieri
Elisabetta Trabetti
Number of ECTS credits allocated
Academic sector
Language of instruction
II semestre dal Mar 1, 2011 al Jun 15, 2011.
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Lesson timetable

II semestre
Day Time Type Place Note
Wednesday 10:30 AM - 11:30 AM lesson Lecture Hall F  
Thursday 11:30 AM - 1:30 PM lesson Lecture Hall D  
Friday 12:30 PM - 1:30 PM lesson Lecture Hall D  

Learning outcomes

The course purposes are:
• To give basic knowledge about living organism characteristic: procariots, eucariots, viruses, through the acquisition of the fundamental concepts of biology and of the structural, functional and molecular principles of cellular processes.
• To educate to the critical evaluation of experimental data, describing and discussing past and contemporary important experiments.
• To let know the current methodologies used in the biological molecules study

• Organization levels of living organisms
• Chemistry of living organisms and biological molecules
• Energetic bases of life: energetic metabolism, photosynthesis, cellular respiration. Enzymes.
• Structure, function, replication of the eukaryotic and prokaryotic cell. Role of the cell compartmentation.
• Methods and Instruments of cell investigations
• Plasmatic membrane: structure, properties and function
• Cell communication
• Cell cycle and its regulation, mitosis, meiosis
• Nucleic acids gene value and experimental demonstration
• DNA: structure, function, replication
• DNA mutation and repair
• Informational pathway: transcription, translation. Regulation of gene expression in eukaryotes and prokaryotes
• Hereditary character transmission and Mendel’s laws
• Recombinant DNA technology and genomics.
• The human genome
• Somatic mutations and cancer
• Evolutionary theory. Speciation, selection, evolution, adaptation
• General biology of Viruses and Prokaryotes.
• Developmental and aging biology
• Animal behavior


OVERVIEW ON BIOLOGY. Characteristics of the living beings: prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell, growth and development, regulation of metabolism, ability to respond to stimuli, reproduction, evolution and adaptation. Levels of biological organization. Transmission of information between organisms and across generations. Evolution and hierarchical classification of living organisms. Energy flow through ecosystems.

CHEMICAL ELEMENTS OF LIFE. Chemical elements in living organisms. Covalent, ionic, polar, nonpolar, hydrogen bonds; intermolecular interactions, the van der Waals forces. Redox reactions, pH, salts, acids, bases, buffers. Functional groups. Geometrical and structural isomers. Organic molecules and macromolecules. Carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, nucleic acids. Enantiomers. Importance of water in biology.

PRINCIPAL INSTRUMENTS AND METHODS OF CELL INVESTIGATIONS: light microscopy, electron microscopy, cell fractionation

PROKARYOTIC AND EUKARYOTIC CELL. Cell theory. Organization of the cell. Internal membranes and compartmentalization. Organelles, characteristics and functions: Nucleus, ribosomes, RER, REL, Golgi, lysosomes, peroxisomes, cytoskeleton (microtubules, microfilaments, intermediate filaments, centrioles), cilia, flagella, cell wall, extracellular matrix. Animal and plant cells. Mitochondria and plastids (chloroplasts, amyloplasts, chromoplasts) and endosymbiont theory.

BIOLOGICAL MEMBRANES. Structure and proposed models. Kinds of membrane lipids and proteins. Function of membrane constituents. Passage of materials across cell membranes: passive transport (facilitated diffusion and simple), osmosis, directly and indirectly active transport, co-transport. Exocytosis and endocytosis. Anchoring, tight and gap cell junctions in animal and plant cells.

CELL COMMUNICATION. Types of cellular communication: endocrine, paracrine, autocrine and iuxtacrine. Sending and receiving the signal. Surface and intracellular receptors. Receptors coupled to ion channels, G protein, enzymes. Signal transduction and second messengers. The response to signals. Negative signal transduction.

Energy and metabolism: energy and biological work; exo-and endo-ergonic reactions, metabolism, anabolism and catabolism, reduction-oxidation reactions, energy coupling; ATP; energy transfer systems: transport of phosphate groups, electrons and other active groups.
Enzymes. Activation energy, active site, features, functioning, control systems, activation and inhibition of enzyme activity, metabolic pathways, cofactors, coenzymes, prosthetic groups.

ATP SYNTHESIS AND METABOLIC PATHWAYS THAT RELEASE ENERGY. Redox reactions. Glycolysis, aerobic respiraton, Krebs cycle, electron transport chain: oxidative phosphorylation and chemiosmosis. Anaerobic respiraton. Fermentation.
Photosynthesis. Chlorophyll and other pigments. Antenna pigments. Light-dependent reactions. Photosystems I and II. Cyclical and not-cyclical transport of electrons. Chemiosmosis and photophosphorylation. Light-independent reactions and C fixation. Calvin Benson cycle. C4 cycle. Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM). Photorespiration.
Heterotrophic, autotrophic, phototrophic, chemotrophic organisms.

ORGANIZATION OF DNA IN CHROMOSOMES, MITOSIS AND MEIOSIS. DNA and proteins, nucleosomes, heterochromatin, euchromatin, chromosome condensation. The cell cycle and its regulation. Mitosis, meiosis and sexual reproduction.

PRINCIPLES OF MENDEL’S HEREDITY. Definition of phenotype, genotype, locus, gene, dominant and recessive allele, homozygosity and heterozygosity. Segregation and independent assortment. Independence and association. Crossing-over and recombination. Genetic determination of sex. Gene interactions. Incomplete dominance, condominance, multiple alleles, epistasis and polygeny.

DNA AND GENETIC MATERIAL. Transforming principle in bacteria. Bacterial Transformation and Griffith experiments. Hershey and Chase experiment. DNA structure. Replication. Meselson and Stahl experiment and semiconservative replication. DNA synthesis and error repair.

GENE EXPRESSION IN DIFFERENT ORGANISMS. Gene/protein relationship. Gene/enzyme hypothesis, Beadle and Tatum experiment. Genetic information pathway. Transcription, mRNA synthesis and maturation. Genetic code, tRNA and translation. Post-transcriptional and post-translational modifications. Coding and noncoding sequences. Prokaryotic and eukaryotic genes. Several types of RNA and gene expression control. DNA mutations and mutagenesis.

GENERAL ASPECTS OF GENE REGULATION IN PROKARYOTES AND EUKARYOTES. Operons, promoters, inducible and repressible genes, repressors and activators. Positive and negative control of gene transcription. Post-transcriptional and post-translational controls. Epigenetic inheritance. Imprinting. Gene amplification. Promoters, TATA box and UPE. Transcription factors, enhancers. RNA maturation and alternative splicing. RNA stability. Maturation of proteins.

RECOMBINANT DNA TECHNOLOGY AND GENOMICS. DNA cloning, restriction enzymes, vectors and genomic libraries. Genetic probes. DNA amplification in vitro by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). DNA analysis by means of electrophoresis: Southern, Northern and Western blot. Polymorphisms and DNA sequencing. Definition of structural, functional and comparative genomics. DNA microarray. Human Genome Project, Bioinformatics, Pharmacogenomics and Proteomics.

HUMAN GENOME. Karyotype analysis and pedigrees. Mouse models for studying genetic diseases in humans. Chromosomal abnormalities and genetic mutations. Autosomal recessive, autosomal dominant, X-linked diseases. Cancer and cell growth: oncogenes, tumour suppressor genes, mutator genes, c-onc activation and TS-gene silencing, clonal evolution of tumours.

DEVELOPMENT BIOLOGY. Cell differentiation and morphogenesis. Differential gene expression. Somatic and germ cells. Stem cells. Cloning. Transgenic organisms. Genetic control of development. Model organisms: Drosophila, Caenorbiditis elegans, Mouse, Arabidospsis. Maternal effect genes, the segmentation genes, homeotic genes. Mosaic development, apoptosis. Transgenic mice.

DARWIN AND EVOLUTION. Natural selection. Micro and macro-evolution. Synthetic theory of evolution (neo-Darwinism). Effect of chance. Evidence for evolution. Sedimentary rocks. Fossils. Comparative anatomy. Biogeography, geology (plate tectonics and continents drift) and correlations with evolution. Developmental biology and evolutionary patterns. Molecular comparison among organisms. Universality of the genetic code, evolutionary changes in proteins and DNA. Phylogenetic trees, speciation and divergence between species. Evolutionary hypothesis.

GENERAL BIOLOGY OF VIRUES AND PROKARIOTES. DNA viruses, RNA viruses (retroviruses) and phages. Origin of the virus. Lytic cycle and virulence. Lysogenic cycle and temperate viruses. Lysogenic conversion. Viruses of vertebrates and viral infections. Elements of plant viruses. Viroids and prions.
Prokaryotes. Archea and Bacteria domains. Gram+ and Gram-. Cilia, flagella, chemotaxis. Binary fission and reproduction of bacteria. Transfer of genetic information. Processing, translation, conjugation. Evolution of bacterial populations. Sporulation. Biofilm. Metabolism: dependence on oxygen and other energy sources. Colonization of extreme environments. Prokaryotes and environment: parasites, saprophytes, symbionts. Prokaryotes and diseases. Antibiotics and resistance. Prokaryotes and commercial processes.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR. The influence of sensory stimuli, learning, genetic heritage. The selection for the survival and reproductive success, the concept of total fitness.

Reference books
Author Title Publisher Year ISBN Note

Assessment methods and criteria

Written test (multiple choice quiz and open questions) based on the educational content of the course.
Students who have received at least 25/30 in the written test and aiming for a better rate can support an oral exam.