Course catalogue doctoral education - VT21

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Title What is Life? The Future of Biology
Course number 3234
Programme Tumörbiologi och onkologi (FoTO)
Language English
Credits 2.5
Date 2021-02-17 -- 2021-06-09
Responsible KI department Institutionen för mikrobiologi, tumör- och cellbiologi
Specific entry requirements
Purpose of the course The understanding of life and of fundamental life procedures is to be found in the cross-section between basic physics, chemistry, biochemistry and Darwinian evolution. The problems and questions were formulated already 75 years ago by the Nobel prize winner in physics Erwin Schrödinger with his book “What is life?”. During the subsequent decades dramatic advances have been made depending on the discovery of DNA and the unveiling of metabolic processes. However, the fundamental issues about origin of life and the ultimate driving forces remain largely unanswered.
This broad introductory course aims at providing an understanding of the fundamental problems of life from a biology point of view, how they can be approached and studied, and how new tools and technologies expands these possibilities. Further, the course will give students an introduction to complex systems (biocomplexity) and network theory.
Intended learning outcomes After completing the course, the student will be able to:
- Understand the dominating theories for origin of life
- Understand the components of evolutionary theory and its explanatory power
- Know about Schrödingers historical theory on “What is life”
- Present definitions of Life
- Describe the residing principles for organization of biological systems
- Understand how complex systems and network theory relate to the cell's biology
- Know about self-organizing systems
- Discuss the fundamental role of water in cellular molecular biology
- Know about the role of computer simulations in modern biology
- Know about the role of quantum physics and thermodynamics in molecular and cellular biology
- Discuss how genetic information can be converted to mechanical or electric force in biological systems
Contents of the course - Definitions of Life
- Origin of life, residing theories
- The components of Darwins evolutionary theory, and what it can explain
- Prebiotic, chemical evolution
- Fundamental organization of biological systems
- Self organizing systems
- Theories of complex systems and networks, applications to cell biology
- Water in cellular biology
- Quantum physics and thermodynamics in biology
- The use of computer simulations in biological systems
Teaching and learning activities The teaching activities will be based on lectures and workshops, in which the students will actively interact with teachers and each other. Lectures by leading international invited speakers are mixed with those of local experts. The students receive recordings of all invited lectures for further self-studies at home.
Literature studies are followed up by seminars with student presentations and discussions.
Compulsory elements Lectures, workshops and the literature study presentation seminars are mandatory. Some activities can be
compensated for with an extra written literature study in agreement with the course organiser. The student cannot participate in the final assessment when more than 20% of the activities are missed.
Examination The course assessment is based on two activities 1) student performance during interactive classes and workshops where the student is expected to actively participate in exercises, 2) a written examination with essay questions mostly focused on understanding and discussing problem solutions.
Literature and other teaching material Mandatory literature:
Schrödinger, E. What is life? The physical aspect of the living cell (1944, latest edition 2018), appr 100 pages.
Lane, N. The vital question. Why is life the way it is? (2015, WW Norton & company), appr 150 pages. Five selected chapters-
Both books can be obtained through the course organizer at the start of the course. 2-3 additional articles for the literature seminars.
Number of students 8 - 20
Selection of students Selection will be based on 1) the relevance of the course syllabus for the applicant's doctoral project (according to written motivation), 2) start date of doctoral studies (priority given to earlier start date)
More information Ten mandatory sessions incl lectures, invited speakers (like Stuart Kauffman, Laszlo Barabasi, Peter Csermely, Nick Lane, Jim Al-Kahlili), interactive discussions after lectures, discussions on the course books. On average two sessions per month, afternoons in lecture room at Biomedicum, KI Solna Campus, between 14.30 - 17, usually Wednesdays.
Additional course leader
Latest course evaluation Course evaluation report
Course responsible Ingemar Ernberg
Institutionen för mikrobiologi, tumör- och cellbiologi

Box 280, Karolinska Institutet

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