Biology: The Science of Life

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible Course in Biology If my college biology class had been like this, I would certainly have taken a different route in Science. The Course covers a vast spectrum of biology from the infinitesimal, through DNA and energy creation and use in cells to the grand with living systems existing in societies and the impacts on each other. Dr Nowicki is very knowledgeable and his presentation skills make him a foremost instructor. He explains everything thoroughly so that the concepts he shares are easy to understand. Excellent class. I recommend to everyone with even a modicum of interest in the vast subject of Biology.
Date published: 2020-10-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lecture Notes Rule! And yet again.... a TGC lecturer who hides behind the security of his lecture notes. Surely, he has given this lecture many times for his 'day job' that he has the confidence to stand in front of his table and LECTURE - not READ his notes! - his lab tech. could do this!
Date published: 2020-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Great Course! I loved the way that this course knitted together all of the major concepts in biology. I graduated as a Biology Major some years ago and I am retired now. This course is a great reminder of why I enjoyed learning about this topic so much!
Date published: 2020-08-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Organized and Comprehensive; not well-presented My degree is in biology and I was a biology teacher myself. I bought this course to see what might be new. I will recommend this course, only because it is the only complete course on general biology here, but I didn't enjoy listening to Dr Nowicki. If they ever replace this course with a new comprehensive biology course, I would not recommend this one. Unbelievably, Nowicki reads his notes to us! This results in stumbling while reading fairly frequently. He tries to make it sound extemporaneous by yelling excitedly. He tries to make it appear as if he does not need his notes by taking appearing to step away from them, but after taking one step, he goes right back to reading his notes, head down. This can wear you out. His information is good and at an introductory level; he takes nothing for granted. His explanations are good enough, but rarely engaging. It might be best appreciated in audio-only format.
Date published: 2020-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Biology the science of life It was detailed and thought provoking as well as informative. The knowledge gained will enhance my understanding and appreciation of the mechanism of life.
Date published: 2020-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great lectures! This is a great course for beginners and those who want to refresh their memories.
Date published: 2020-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An in depth view of Biology This is great to learn about the history and background information about how these amazing things about life became understood. It is presented in a similar way a professor would present to college students. There is a great deal of information, and this can be a great review or a way to understand what happens in Biology in a way that does require some attention. I was personally very intrigued, but had to pay close attention as the pace was brisk. I enjoy learning and reading to do research. I enjoyed the format very much!
Date published: 2020-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wealth of information! I've purchased a number of courses, some historical, some science. I'm also a member of "The Great Courses plus ". I listen on my computer and in my car, many hours of teaching.
Date published: 2020-06-27
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Biology: The Science of Life
Course Trailer
The Scope of "Life"
1: The Scope of "Life"

The first lecture gives an overview of biology, raising key questions about the nature of life and the origin of living things, and concludes with an outline of the structure of the course....

31 min
More on the Origin of Life
2: More on the Origin of Life

This lecture outlines the challenges of evolution for living entities such as we recognize today, and reviews experimental data suggesting how these challenges might have been met. The process of reproduction identifies the concept of information in biology, and introduces the connecting theme for the first third of the course....

30 min
The Organism and the Cell
3: The Organism and the Cell

Professor Nowicki outlines the hierarchical nature of biological systems and introduces two fundamental levels of the hierarchy: the organism and the cell....

30 min
Proteins-How Things Get Done in the Cell
4: Proteins-How Things Get Done in the Cell

This lecture describes the four major classes of biomolecules-lipids, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, and proteins-and discusses the role of proteins in the life of the cell....

30 min
Which Molecule Holds the Code?
5: Which Molecule Holds the Code?

Key experiments in the first half of the 20th century led to the conclusion that DNA is the information-carrying molecule....

31 min
The Double Helix
6: The Double Helix

Experiments by Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins, and others led to the discovery by James Watson and Francis Crick of the double helix structure of DNA, suggesting a mechanism by which the information in DNA can be replicated....

30 min
The Nuts and Bolts of Replicating DNA
7: The Nuts and Bolts of Replicating DNA

After describing how the theory of DNA replication was confirmed, Professor Nowicki summarizes the process, which has been the key to understanding and manipulating biological systems....

31 min
The Central Dogma
8: The Central Dogma

We are introduced to the "central dogma" of molecular biology: Genetic information flows in one direction only-from DNA to RNA to proteins, not in reverse....

31 min
The Genetic Code
9: The Genetic Code

How is protein structure coded in DNA? This lecture describes the experiments that cracked the code and examines the code's defining properties....

30 min
From DNA to RNA
10: From DNA to RNA

Step one in the journey of genetic information from DNA to proteins is the process of transcription, by which messenger RNA is made from a DNA template....

29 min
From RNA to Protein
11: From RNA to Protein

Completing the description of how genetic information finds its way to functional proteins, this lecture covers the process of translation, which is the synthesis of proteins based on an RNA template....

30 min
When Mistakes Happen
12: When Mistakes Happen

We learn the causes for errors that creep into DNA during copying and the mechanisms that have evolved to detect and repair those errors....

30 min
Dividing DNA Between Dividing Cells
13: Dividing DNA Between Dividing Cells

Moving from the molecular level to the level of cells and organisms, this lecture addresses the question: When a new being is produced, how does it acquire DNA from its parents?...

30 min
Mendel and His Pea Plants
14: Mendel and His Pea Plants

The first of two lectures on Gregor Mendel's 19th-century experiments on the genetics of pea plants shows how this work anticipated the modern understanding of genes, chromosomes, and the formation of gametes during meiosis....

30 min
How Sex Leads to Variation
15: How Sex Leads to Variation

This lecture continues the discussion of Mendel's contributions to genetics, turning to subsequent experiments in which he looked at the transmission of more than one trait....

29 min
Genes and Chromosomes
16: Genes and Chromosomes

We explore the understanding of the cellular and molecular basis of genetics that emerged after Mendel at the turn of the 20th century....

31 min
Charles Darwin and "The Origin of Species"
17: Charles Darwin and "The Origin of Species"

At almost the same time that Mendel was working on his laws of inheritance, Charles Darwin was completing his theory of natural selection, which sought to explain the change of species over time....

30 min
Natural Selection in Action
18: Natural Selection in Action

This lecture presents several examples that demonstrate natural selection in action, including data from both field studies and laboratory experiments....

30 min
Reconciling Darwin and Mendel
19: Reconciling Darwin and Mendel

The apparent conflict between Mendel and Darwin was resolved through the "modern synthesis," which models gene frequency changes in populations....

30 min
Mechanisms of Evolutionary Change
20: Mechanisms of Evolutionary Change

Natural selection is not the only cause of evolution. Other factors can produce changes in the gene pool of a population, the most notable being genetic drift....

30 min
What Are Species and How Do New Ones Arise?
21: What Are Species and How Do New Ones Arise?

Professor Nowicki discusses problems with the biological species concept, introduces alternate definitions, and describes the process of allopatric speciation....

30 min
More on the Origin of New Species
22: More on the Origin of New Species

Continuing the discussion of how new species arise, this lecture looks at sympatric speciation, which occurs in the absence of physical separation of populations....

30 min
Reconstructing Evolution
23: Reconstructing Evolution

How do biologists organize the enormous diversity of living things? We learn about phylogenetic systematics as an approach for reconstructing evolutionary history....

31 min
The History of Life, Revisited
24: The History of Life, Revisited

This lecture takes a final look at the concept of information and evolution in biology by returning to the question of how an original, primordial life form might have given rise to the complex biodiversity observed today....

31 min
From Cells to Organisms
25: From Cells to Organisms

This lecture recaps material presented to this point and introduces the second major section of the course, "Development and Homeostasis," by looking at the mystery of complex, multicellular, self-regulating organisms....

30 min
Control of Gene Expression I
26: Control of Gene Expression I

What makes cells different? We look at the mid 20th-century experiments of Jacques Monod and François Jacob in search of the mechanisms of gene regulation....

30 min
Control of Gene Expression II
27: Control of Gene Expression II

We continue our investigation of how the proteins in a cell are determined by mechanisms that turn on and off the expression of specific genes....

30 min
Getting Proteins to the Right Place
28: Getting Proteins to the Right Place

Producing the right proteins at the right time is only the first step. This lecture explains how proteins find themselves in the right places inside or outside a cell....

31 min
Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology
29: Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology

The mechanisms cells use to replicate and transcribe DNA have shown researchers how to modify genes, transfer genetic material, and sequence genes....

30 min
How Cells Talk-Signals and Receptors
30: How Cells Talk-Signals and Receptors

This lecture is the first of two that explore how molecular messages control cell function, focusing on how signals outside the cell get their message to the inside of the cell....

30 min
How Cells Talk-Ways That Cells Respond
31: How Cells Talk-Ways That Cells Respond

Continuing the discussion of extracellular signals and cell function, this lecture focuses on the molecular mechanisms by which signals can change the way cells work....

30 min
From One Cell to Many in an Organism
32: From One Cell to Many in an Organism

How does a single cell develop into a fully formed organism? This lecture outlines the major questions surrounding development....

30 min
Patterns of Early Development
33: Patterns of Early Development

Professor Nowicki describes the four earliest stages of animal development-fertilization, cleavage, gastrulation, and organogenesis-outlining the processes involved in each....

30 min
Determination and Differentiation
34: Determination and Differentiation

Developmental processes cause cells to differentiate into many different types of cells. One such mechanism is cytoplasmic segregation....

31 min
Induction and Pattern Formation
35: Induction and Pattern Formation

The second major mechanism involved in differentiation is induction, in which cells stimulate each other to develop in different ways....

30 min
Genes and Development
36: Genes and Development

This lecture examines the development of the Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) as an example of the influence of specific genes on pattern formation....

30 min
37: Homeostasis

Homeostasis refers to an organism's ability to maintain a constant internal environment. We explore the nature of this mechanism and look at examples such as the regulation of body temperature....

31 min
Hormones in Animals
38: Hormones in Animals

Homeostasis requires the different parts of a complex organism to communicate with each other. This lecture focuses on the endocrine system, which uses chemical signals called hormones to transmit physiological information....

30 min
What Is Special about Neurons?
39: What Is Special about Neurons?

This lecture begins a discussion of the nervous system by examining neurons and the properties that enable them to transmit information over long distances at high speeds....

30 min
Action Potentials and Synapses
40: Action Potentials and Synapses

We review the initiation of action potentials and discuss how the anatomy of the neuron allows action potentials to propagate along the axon....

30 min
Synaptic Integration and Memory
41: Synaptic Integration and Memory

In addition to transmitting information, the nervous system must also be able to process it. This lecture covers how inputs to a typical neuron are processed and stored....

30 min
Sensory Function
42: Sensory Function

This lecture looks at the basic principles underlying sensory function-the mechanism by which animals obtain information from their environment....

31 min
How Muscles Work
43: How Muscles Work

Turning to the output side of cell function, Professor Nowicki examines muscles, describing the molecular basis for how muscle cells change their shape and exert force in doing so....

31 min
The Innate Immune System
44: The Innate Immune System

How do animals defend themselves from injury or infection? We see how the nonspecific, or innate, immune response provides a general defense....

30 min
The Acquired Immune System
45: The Acquired Immune System

What happens if an infection can't be handled by nonspecific defenses? This is where the more specifically targeted and more efficient mechanisms associated with acquired immunity come into play....

30 min
Form and Function in Plants I
46: Form and Function in Plants I

This lecture begins an examination of plant structure, development, and physiology, illustrating similarities and differences with analogous processes in animals....

30 min
Form and Function in Plants II
47: Form and Function in Plants II

We continue our study of plant form and function by looking at how homeostasis is maintained in plants and by examining the ways plants respond to the external environment....

31 min
Behavior as an Adaptive Trait
48: Behavior as an Adaptive Trait

This lecture discusses the adaptive significance of the ways organisms respond to stimuli. Why are some behaviors inflexible and others not?...

30 min
Energy and Resources in Living Systems
49: Energy and Resources in Living Systems

Starting with a review of previous material, Professor Nowicki sets the stage for the third major theme of the course, "Energy and Resources," which moves from the level of molecules to global ecosystems....

30 min
How Energy Is Harnessed by Cells
50: How Energy Is Harnessed by Cells

We look at the process by which cells obtain energy from a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP)....

31 min
Enzymes-Making Chemistry Work in Cells
51: Enzymes-Making Chemistry Work in Cells

Activation energy is the initial "push" required for a chemical reaction to proceed. This lecture examines the role and function of enzymes in facilitating chemical reactions in cells, which they do by effectively lowering this activation energy....

30 min
Cellular Currencies of Energy
52: Cellular Currencies of Energy

We explore the chemical nature of ATP that allows it to serve as an energy "currency" for cells, and learn how energy is stored in glucose and other organic molecules, which allow them to act as a cellular "fuel" for making more ATP....

30 min
Making ATP-Glycolysis
53: Making ATP-Glycolysis

This lecture introduces the three energy-producing metabolic processes in the cell-glycolysis, the Krebs cycle, and the electron transport chain-and looks in depth at glycolysis....

31 min
Making ATP-Cellular Respiration
54: Making ATP-Cellular Respiration

Glycolysis extracts relatively little of the energy available in glucose. The complete harvest of this energy involves several additional processes, including the Krebs cycle and the electron transport chain....

30 min
Making ATP-The Chemiosmotic Theory
55: Making ATP-The Chemiosmotic Theory

The electron transport chain is the process that ultimately uses the energy extracted from the breakdown of organic molecules such as glucose to drive the production of ATP, but how this worked was a mystery for decades. This lecture outlines the radical theory that finally solved this puzzle....

31 min
Capturing Energy from Sunlight
56: Capturing Energy from Sunlight

Living things require fuel to generate ATP. Some organisms generate fuel by converting the energy of sunlight into high-energy organic compounds through the process of photosynthesis....

30 min
The Reactions of Photosynthesis
57: The Reactions of Photosynthesis

Where does the added mass come from when a plant grows? The answer leads us to consider the reactions of photosynthesis and the Calvin cycle....

31 min
Resources and Life Histories
58: Resources and Life Histories

Many organisms have the capacity for the kind of explosive population growth associated with bacteria. Asking why such unchecked growth is rare provides a transition to considering energy and resources at higher levels of biological organization....

29 min
The Structure of Populations
59: The Structure of Populations

Our survey of energy and resources moves to the level of populations, in which we define the term population and outline the characteristics of a population from an ecological perspective....

30 min
Population Growth
60: Population Growth

This lecture looks at population growth under the ideal conditions of exponential growth and under the more realistic assumptions of logistic growth....

30 min
What Limits Population Growth?
61: What Limits Population Growth?

Does the logistic growth model describe the growth of real populations? The answer is "yes and no." We look at the factors that actually regulate population growth....

31 min
Costs and Benefits of Behavior
62: Costs and Benefits of Behavior

The behavior of an individual changes in a way that maximizes the difference between the costs and benefits that are accrued by that particular behavior....

30 min
Altruism and Mate Selection
63: Altruism and Mate Selection

Altruistic interactions are quite common, yet difficult to understand from an evolutionary perspective. An expanded definition of reproductive fitness provides an explanation....

31 min
Ecological Interactions Among Species
64: Ecological Interactions Among Species

The interaction between predators and their prey is one of the most important in nature. We examine examples of these interactions and the principles that can be derived from them....

31 min
Predators and Competitors
65: Predators and Competitors

This lecture looks in more detail at cases in which one species benefits and the other is harmed, and then focuses on competition where both species might be affected adversely by the other's presence....

30 min
Competition and the Ecological Niche
66: Competition and the Ecological Niche

Continuing the discussion of competition in communities, we look at studies of how a competitive interaction affects species, which leads to the concept of the ecological niche....

30 min
Energy in Ecosystems
67: Energy in Ecosystems

Environments store and release critical resources to the species that live in them. This lecture explores the flow of one such resource-energy-showing how inefficiencies in energy transfer can influence the abundance of a species....

30 min
Nutrients in Ecosystems
68: Nutrients in Ecosystems

Unlike energy, nutrients are recycled into and out of ecosystems. To illustrate the significance of this fact, we follow the cycles of three critical nutrient elements: carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus....

30 min
How Predictable Are Ecological Communities?
69: How Predictable Are Ecological Communities?

Many aspects of the structure and composition of ecological communities have been shown to be unpredictable. As a result, ecologists now focus on patterns of disturbance in communities instead of trying to describe the end-state of ideal communities....

30 min
70: Biogeography

Biogeography is the branch of biology that attempts to account for the patterns of distribution of populations, species, and ecological communities on a global scale. We look at examples that illustrate key points....

31 min
Human Population Growth
71: Human Population Growth

For most of history, human population size was limited by the amount of resources available naturally in the environment. But humans have repeatedly redefined ways many resources can be obtained and used, an ability that has led to a dramatic increase in world population....

31 min
The Human Asteroid
72: The Human Asteroid

The increasing loss of biodiversity means that species diversity is decreasing at the very moment of our greatest strides in biological understanding. Professor Nowicki closes with reasons for alarm and hope....

32 min
Stephen Nowicki

It's almost 75 years later, and we find ourselves in much the same position as Wells described in 1929. Our knowledge of biology has exploded in recent years and it continues to expand exponentially.


Cornell University


Duke University

About Stephen Nowicki

Dr. Stephen Nowicki is Bass Fellow and Professor of Biology at Duke University. He is also Dean and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education at Duke, and holds appointments in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and in the Neurobiology Department at Duke University Medical Center. Prior to taking his position at Duke, he was a post-doctoral fellow and assistant professor at The Rockefeller University. Professor Nowicki earned his undergraduate degree and a master's degree at Tufts University, and his Ph.D. from Cornell University. He is the recipient of the Robert B. Cox Distinguished Teaching Award from Duke University. He has been awarded fellowships from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Professor Nowicki has published more than 65 scholarly articles in academic journals and is coauthor of the book The Evolution of Animal/Communication: Reliability and Deceit in Signaling Systems.

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