General Biology (2017/2018)

Course code
Name of lecturer
Elisabetta Trabetti
Elisabetta Trabetti
Number of ECTS credits allocated
Academic sector
Language of instruction
II sem. dal Mar 1, 2018 al Jun 15, 2018.

Lesson timetable

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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 describe the fundamental concepts of genetics and the transmission of hereditary characters in different organisms, with specific examples of pathological traits in humans
• to provide basic knowledge on the mechanisms governing the flow of genetic information and the development of organisms
• to provide basic knowledge of animal behavior
• to educate to the critical evaluation of experimental data, describing and discussing past and contemporary important experiments.
• to provide the up-to-date methodologies used in the biological molecules studies

At the end of the course, students should demonstrate to have acquired notions to become fruitful for a critical analysis of the mechanisms which regulate intra/intercellular activities, cellular interactions and reproduction, organism-to –organism interactions and organisms-to-environment interactions and cause mutations. Students are expected to be autonomous in the evaluation of the mentioned processes. They should also demonstrate to have acquired knowledge of the flow of genetic information, growth and development of living organisms, Mendelian genetics and of animal behavior. Students should also demonstrate to have acquired basic knowledge of methodologies used in the biological molecules studies and their capability to expose reasoning in a critical and precise manner using appropriate scientific terms.

Knowledge and understanding: students will acquire knowledge of the fundamental structures of biological systems, interpreted in a molecular and cellular key, in an evolutionary view of life; students will also acquire knowledge of the main biomolecular models and technologies and the basic foundations of genetics.

Ability to apply knowledge and understanding: students will be able to use the specific notions of biology and genetic bases of life to propose appropriate and original solutions in computer applications; students will also acquire the ability to read and understand advanced biological topics and will therefore be able to face a training course (including a master's degree) both in the biotechnology and bioinformatics field.


• 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.
• 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. Aging process. Plant development. Cancer and cell growth. Growth factors.
• 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 BEHAVIOUR. The influence of sensory stimuli, learning, genetic heritage. The selection for the survival and reproductive success, the concept of total fitness.
Teaching methods consist of frontal lessons. In addition to the suggested texts, supplemental material is offered on the e-learning platform of the course.
Students may request personal reception to the teacher every time they need it throughout the academic year, by email.

Reference books
Author Title Publisher Year ISBN Note
Solomon, Martin, Martin, Berg Elementi di Biologia (Edizione 7) EdiSES 2017 978-88-7959-938-2

Assessment methods and criteria

The task of the exam consists in verifying the comprehension of course contents and the ability to accurately expose their arguments with appropriate scientific language.

The exam consists of a written test based on all the course contents featuring multiple-choice questions and open-ended questions. The exams are scheduled in 4 sessions, with intermediate evaluation, as follows: an intermediate written test during the course, 2 exams in the Summer Session at the end of the course, 1 exam in the Fall Session and 1 exam in the Extraordinary Session.
The exam is passed if the evaluation is greater or equal to 18/30.
Students who pass the intermediate test have to pass the final test on the same day of the first exam in the Summer Session; the whole evaluation is obtained as the average of the two evaluations.

Students reaching an evaluation greater or equal to 25/30 in the written test and who aspire to a better vote can take an oral exam (for those who have passed the intermediate test, there is only one oral exam after the final exam).