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  Course Description | Schedule & Reading List | Required Texts | Exams, Grades, Etc. |Advice

Lecturer & How to Reach Her :

When & Where Class Meets :

Lecturer = Dr. Deborah Mowshowitz

Lectures are Mon. & Wed. 10:35 - 11:50 --Room 222 Pupin

e-mail = dbm2 at
voice mail = 854-4497

Optional Recitations for '10 were:  Mon 9:30 am, or Mon after class (attend one)

Office = 744D Fairchild Extension (aka Mudd)

TA: Caroline Patenode, cap2188 at

Office Hrs. for Dr. M. in fall = 1-2 Tues, 4-5  Wed &  Thurs; e-mail or call to arrange for other times.

Last update of this page: 09/02/11

Exams of last year will be posted as practice before each exam. Keys to the old exams ('10) will be in the readings booklet. Keys to current exams (11) will be posted as we go.
All Exams of '10 & Answer Keys of '11 will be Posted on Courseworks

Click here for a Sample Exam.

Fulfilling the Science Requirement:

This course fulfills one term of the science requirement for both CC & GS. It has no prerequisites. If you are planning to major in science or math, or you got a 5 in AP bio, you may want to start with a higher level bio course, but you are welcome to try W1015 out and see. This course is quite different from a standard AP bio course or intro course for nonmajors, and you may well enjoy it even if you took AP or IB bio. If you are interested in learning real biology (as opposed to learning "about" biology), but you don't have much science background, or don't want to memorize lots of facts, this is the course you have been looking for.

There is an additional biology course designed specifically for nonscientists --W1130y, Genes & Development. If you want to take a year of biology to fulfill your science requirement, you should take W1015x & W1130y (in that order). If you already have some background in biology and want to learn more (but are not a science major) you might want to skip W1015 and take W1130 in the spring.


This course will concentrate on two areas of modern biology -- molecular biology and evolution. Molecular biologists have pretty much figured out how cells "know" what to do and how they pass this information on to their descendants. This course will cover what molecular biologists have already figured out, how they figured it out, and what they are likely to try next. Molecular biology does not make much sense unless you know something about molecules, so we will cover some basic chemistry when the need arises. (We will assume no prior knowledge and explain it all from the ground up.)

Molecular biology explains what cells can do now; evolution explains how they got that way. Current ideas about evolution will be discussed throughout the course as they come up, and detailed discussions of the molecular basis of evolution will take place as soon as we have covered the relevant molecular biology.

Quotes from students who took this course: 

"Before I took this course I used to stare at the ceiling whenever they talked about DNA. Now I don't have to do that any more." 

"Now I really understand what it says in the Tuesday Science Times."

Here are some links to additional student reviews of the course from CULPA and from the departmental evaluations. This course was formerly called 'C1015' instead of 'W1015.' Every attempt has been made to update the web site, but some of the older documents or web sites may still say C1015.


You are expected to learn the basic concepts of molecular biology and evolution, and to understand the experiments that produced these ideas. You will have to learn some new vocabulary in order to talk sensibly about the methods and results of molecular biology, but the stress will be on understanding and not on memorization.

Problems and study questions will be provided to help you increase your understanding and to give you a more exact idea of just what level of understanding is expected. Some of the problems will be collected and graded; all of the problems will be discussed in recitation along with any other questions you may have. You are expected to do (or try to do) all the current problems regularly as we go along. 

It will be much easier for you to do well in this class if you attend lecture, because all the important material is discussed in class. The texts are good, but leave out some important background material and include many nonessential details. The only way to be sure you know what really matters is to come to class.*  It also pays to attend recitation regularly and/or to form a study group. A final piece of advice: Try to keep up with the work. Once you fall behind it is hard to catch up because the material is cumulative -- it is very difficult to cram it all in the night before the exam. If you don't understand what happened last week, you are unlikely to make sense of what happens this week or next.  Don't hesitate to contact the instructor or the TA's if you need help.  (Contact info is above.) For more advice, see below.

* Most lectures are recorded. For links to audios, go to announcements. Audios are intended as a backup, not as a substitute for class attendance.  The audios can be hard to follow (if you weren't in class) because of references to diagrams on the board, handouts, models, etc.


1. Recitations. Recitations (discussion periods with a teaching assistant) are optional, but are highly recommended. Recitations will be be held weekly, hopefully at two different times so most students will be able to make one or the other. The recitation period will be used to review the lecture material and the readings, go over the assigned problems and answer any questions. Additional questions and/or quizzes may be handed out in recitation. Recitation is optional, but regular participation in recitation is highly recommended -- it helps you to keep up with the material and it provides an opportunity to earn some points. You have to take the final, but if you attend recitation regularly, the final weighs much less, so there will be less stress on you during finals. Recitation times, rooms and assignments will be arranged in class the first week or so and posted above when ready. If you attend recitation regularly (8 or more times), you will receive a grade  based on the quality of your work and on the level of your participation.  Regular attendance at recitation almost always pays off, because it both increases ease of learning and helps boost your final grade. It can increase your grade because the final is usually difficult while the grading in recitation is usually quite lenient. (On the other hand, if you hate discussion sections, feel free to skip recitation entirely.) If you skip recitation, we strongly encourage you to form a study group so you will have a chance to discuss the material with other students; under some circumstances you can receive a "recitation grade" for your participation in a study group; see details below. 

2. Homework/Study Questions. Problems will be assigned regularly and collected periodically -- about once a week. All answers will be discussed in recitation. The quality & quantity of your homework will count toward your grade. Homework is NOT optional. You are encouraged to talk over the homework with your fellow students, but the work you hand in must be in your own words. Each assignment will be graded on a "check plus" to "check minus" scale. (You get one "bye" -- we will drop the lowest homework grade, so you can skip it once without penalty.) Homework is not just busywork -- it is designed to help you learn the material. Problems will be included in the course booklet; additional problems may be handed out in class or posted on the web. Important:  There will be no make up assignments, and late assignments will not be accepted.

3. Exams.  There will be 4 mini-exams given during the semester, and a final at the usual time. Each mini-exam will take less than half a lecture period (25 minutes). The final will last significantly longer. The purpose of the frequent exams is to encourage you to study frequently.  Each mini-exam will focus on the material since the previous one. The final exam will be comprehensive, but will concentrate on the most recent material. Everyone must take the final. If you attend recitation, the lowest mini-exam grade will be dropped.  If you do not attend recitation, you must take all the mini-exams, and none of the grades will be dropped; the final will be weighted heavily. Click here for all details.

Important: There will be NO make up exams. Be careful when buying nonrefundable tickets!

Most of the questions on the exams will be similar to the study (homework) questions; the final exam questions will probably be more complex than the others. We will post copies of old tests so you will know what to expect. Click here for a sample exam.

Study Guides: We are more interested in understanding than memorization, so you are allowed (even encouraged) to bring a study sheet with you to each exam.  You can bring one ordinary-sized piece of paper with anything you like written on it.  The study sheet must be your own creation. It can be typed or hand written, but it cannot be a copy of one of the class handouts, a page from a book, or a copy of anything made by someone else. (Note that structures & formulas, if needed, are provided for each exam. You don't need to write them out and bring them.)

4. Study groups. You are encouraged to find 2 or 3 other like-minded students and form a study group -- most people find it much easier to master the material if they meet periodically in a small group to talk over the problems, notes, etc. If you cannot attend recitation because of scheduling problems, you may earn a "recitation grade" by regular participation in a formal study group. To earn a grade by participating in a formal study group, your group must meet at least weekly and turn in regular reports; you must also get advance permission from Dr. M. (Students usually find it quite difficult to keep this up for a whole semester, so we recommend attending recitation if at all possible.) However you are urged to form an informal study group whether you regularly attend recitation or not. Click here for more details and advice on how to run a study group.

5. Cards. You will be asked periodically to bring a 3 X 5 card with a question to class. A few of the questions will be discussed at the beginning of each class session. These questions are an important form of feedback -- they help us determine what the class is interested in and what is (or isn't) getting across. You are welcome to bring questions to class (or e-mail them to Dr. M.) at any time, even if they are not assigned. The quality of the questions you submit is not recorded, but the number of times you submit questions is recorded, and the number is used as an indication of your interest and participation in the class.  When the time comes to compute your final grade, participation (as indicated by a reasonable number of cards) can push you across a borderline to a higher grade. So turning in cards never hurts. You can look on it as a form of "extra credit."

6. Determination of final grade. Your final grade in this course will depend  on your homework, your exam grades (mini-exams plus final) and your recitation grade (if you attend recitation or do a formal study group). Everyone must take the final. The final will be weighed differently, depending on whether or not you attend recitation. Click here for more details on how the grade is calculated. If you fall on the border between two grades, say an A- and B+, your level of effort and/or class participation, as indicated by such factors as attendance, the number of questions you have turned in on cards, etc., will be the deciding factor.

7. Advice. Students have asked in the past for detailed advice on 'how to succeed in this course.'  The ten top tips for success in W1015 are at Additional tips on explaining are linked to the advice page and are at

READING MATERIAL  Books 1 & 4 should be available from the CU Bookstore. (Book 2 is widely available.) All three should be on reserve in the Science library (Northwest Corner Building).  If there is any problem, contact Dr. M. You are encouraged to read the assigned chapters in Ridley before class if at all possible. 

1. Ridley, Genome, The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, HarperCollins (hardback) or Perennial (paperback), 2000 or 2006. The basic text in all the editions is the same, but the PS edition (2006) has a little extra (unessential) material added at the beginning and the end. This book covers most of the molecular biology to be discussed in class. We will skip some of the chapters, but you will probably want to read all of it. This book is required.

2.  Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, Norton, 1986 or 1996. This book covers most of the aspects of evolution to be discussed in class. (The required parts will be posted on Courseworks, along with a link to selected quotes -- in course files. You will have to be registered for this course to access these readings.) Only parts of this book are required, but all of it is highly recommended. The author was recently voted one of the top 100 British intellectuals, as reported by the BBC. 

3. Mowshowitz, Readings for Biology W1015, 2011 This collection of supplementary material (required) will be available after school starts at the Village Copier on Broadway near 112th St. Be sure to get the booklet for W1015, NOT the one for C2005. The booklet contains some additional readings, problem sets, review problems, and all the answers to the exams of last year. (The exam questions of last year will be posted on Courseworks as the term proceeds.)

4. Freeman, Biological Science, any ed. (2002 or later), Prentice Hall. Vol 1 (paperback) or the complete hardback. This book is not required; it is largely for reference purposes. However if your biology background is weak, purchase of this book (or a similar one) is strongly recommended.  (Students without a strong bio background recommend it very strongly.) Even if you already know some biology, you will probably need some source of backup material now and then throughout the course. If you want to have a text handy to refer to,  this book is a good choice. It is recent, relatively easy to read, and shares the general approach of the course. However, if you already have any other reasonably recent college biology text (or genetics text) it will do just as well. If you prefer to use the web, see below. We have ordered the paperback, Vol 1, because it is much cheaper and covers most of the material in the course. You may prefer to buy a used edition of Vol. I or the entire book from Amazon or another online seller. Copies of these and many other general biology and genetics texts are on reserve in the Science Library. Good general bio books include those by Mader, Campbell, Gould & Singer, Keeton & Gould, or by Sadava et al (earlier editions are by Purves, Orians & Heller). You can borrow Sadava/Purves from any C2005 bio student. It's good but a lot more detailed than Freeman. Sadava is more encyclopedic; Freeman is more discursive.

An alternative option is to use the web -- there are many good sources but one of the nicest is
This is essentially an on-line biology book created by a retired textbook author. If you use this site often in lieu of a printed textbook, the author would appreciate a donation to help maintain the site. The site includes lots of helpful info on how to find things. (If you like to use online materials, but have difficulty using this site, ask the instructor or TA for help.)

5.  Additional material will be handed out in class periodically. Extra copies of all materials handed out in class will be available on the 7th floor of Fairchild Extension (Mudd) next to room 744.


Scientific American and American Scientist are monthly magazines that often have articles about molecular biology and/or evolution.  Am. Scientist (published by Sigma Xi) has several very good columnists who write excellent short articles. (Some of the long articles are good, but tend to be a little dry.) The Science Times (published every Tuesday as part of the N.Y. Times) is also highly recommended. There is usually at least one article about current developments in molecular biology and/or evolution every Tuesday. All of these resources are available (at least in part) on line. The program Science Friday on National Public Radio (or at is also recommended.

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