PSL1075H - Biology in Time

Course Coordinator:  R Horner

Time is as much a niche in biology as physical space and behavior, and all of bacteria, fungi, plants and animals retain a sense of time and organize their physiological
processes accordingly. The molecular machinery for a hard-wired and well-preserved temporal organization of physiological processes - especially circadian and rest-activity cycles - optimally suits every organism and the chemical machinery that drives them to the conditions of life. These rhythms of life are deeply rooted in ancient biology and have been conserved over time. Humans are the only organisms that now purposefully disrupt and coerce the natural rest-activity cycles and daily rhythms of our component cellular machinery to suit the demands of modern society. As examples, sleep and biological rhythm disturbances affect one in four Canadians, and have deleterious effects on cellular, organ, organismal and societal functions and health. Humans also now consume drugs in huge quantities to counter the problems associated with poor sleep, altered waking functions and disrupted rhythms, with enormous costs to the health care system. The goal of this course is for trainees to gain a broad perspective on the important  role of time-dependent physiological processes to cellular and organismal functions, and how disruption of these cycles can have deleterious effects on cellular, organ and organismal health. Understanding the cellular and neuronal machinery underlying such time-dependent processes has led to major breakthroughs in topics of broad interest, including mechanisms of sleep, sedation and anesthesia, brain plasticity and learning, neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders, endocrinology and metabolism, as well as diverse areas of clinical medicine and health care initiatives.

Format and Content:
There will be typically two trainee presentations (20-25 min each maximum) per class based on papers in the selected areas. Depending on class enrolment there may occasionally be three presentations. These presentations are followed by a general discussion. Original papers will be used as the basis for the presentations and discussions.

As part of the presentations, trainees will also be asked to introduce the foundational physiological principles upon which the research papers are based. These principles will be identified and listed beforerhand, and further advice can be sought from the facilitators as necessary. These principles will serve as the ‘teaching elements” from which the papers and discussion can be best understood and advanced by the whole class.

Papers and presentations will span basic science to integrative physiology and medicine. Participants do not need to have a strong background in all the topics covered because one of the major goals of the course is to broaden the interdisciplinary background of the participants.

Expectations for Presenters:
Presenters are encouraged to go beyond merely reiterating the content of the papers. Suggestions for the emphasis of the presentation may include: (i) the physiological principles upon which the research paper is based; (ii) the context of the paper in the wider field of research, (iii) the broad paradigm and specific question being addressed or interrogated, (iv) details of the experiments, the results and their interpretation; (v) and – importantly - the view and position of the individual presenter on the paradigm, and how she/he thinks the paper addresses, modifies and/or changes that paradigm.

Expectations for Class Participation:
Active participation in the discussions is an expectation, and will be evaluated. For each presentation, therefore, the class will be expected to have read, digested and thought about the paper in detail and to come to class prepared to be actively involved and advance the discussion.

To facilitate full participation and discussion, each individual non-presenting class member will be asked to submit:

  • a brief (~½ page) “SWOT” analysis of each paper (i.e., to a total of ~ 1 page). The SWOT analysis should summarize - in a few lines or bullet points - the papers: (i) key Strengths, (ii) key Weaknesses, (iii) Opportunities for further experiments to advance the field, and (iv) Threats to existing paradigms.
  • their top 3 questions for each presenter to advance discussion of each paper

The “SWOT analysis” and the top 3 questions for each paper will need to be submitted to the facilitators at least 24hrs before the presentation. This is because they will form both the basis of the discussion and initial evaluation of participation.

Oral Presentations - 50% – Original papers will be assigned to the trainees. Each trainee will present the paper to the class and offer a critique. Trainees will present 2-3 times (depending on enrolment), with the presentations assessed by faculty members according to the guidelines listed above – see Expectations for Presenters.

Participation in Discussions - 15% – Trainee participation is a must in order for this class to be a success in furthering new knowledge and learning. Accordingly, participants will be assessed on: (i) their “SWOT analysis” for each paper, (ii) the top 3 questions for each paper - with both (i) and (ii) submitted to the facilitators the day before the presentations as they both will form the basis of the discussion and initial evaluation of participation – and (iii) general contribution to the in-class discussions.

Final Assignment – 35% – Please arrive for Week 7 having thought carefully and deeply about the topic you will cover for Week 13. The choice of final assignment can be a proposed novel experiment that will critically test a key concept, a synthesis of viewpoints into a novel perspective of your generation, and/or your serious critique of a theory. As long as you make your case, it relates to sleep and/or circadian rhythms, and it pushes the envelope in a meaningful and testable way, then we are good to go. I urge you to go beyond simply synthesizing a prevailing view of others, and to tread new ground and go further with your own perspective. There is further opportunity to refine and develop ideas through peer-to-peer interactions in Week 9.

For week 7: Please bring your case as a 1 page well-organized summary or mind-map for distribution (i.e., make the appropriate number of copies yourself for distribution). We will spend 10min on each participant. I especially encourage feedback from class members. I suggest a maximum of 5 min verbal presentation time (no slides, just the summary or ‘mind map’ handout that you will articulate), followed by a 5 min discussion. This format is suitable for many purposes that you will encounter in your professional lives.

For week 13: The presentation will be formal and you will be asked to keep to time (10 min presentation, followed by 5 min discussion).

Last updated: 31-Mar-2016