Course: QCB490/MOL490
Instructor: Coleen Murphy
S 2019

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

Goals: The main goal of the course is to introduce students to the current state of the field in longevity research.  Students will learn to recognize the limitations of human studies in longevity research and the importance of using model organisms.  Since the format of the course is based on the discussion of primary literature, students will learn how to critique and build upon existing literature by pointing out limitations in current studies and proposing their own experimental designs. Organization: The course begins with a discussion of human centenarians and long-lived animals.  This is followed up by a discussion of the biomarkers and phenotypes of aging and the importance of studying healthspan in addition to lifespan.  The bulk of the course focuses on the genetics, cell biology, and molecular mechanisms of longevity, touching briefly upon numerous relevant topics.  Students will notice that reproductive aging and dietary restriction appear repeatedly as major themes in the course.  The course concludes by discussing studies on rejuvenation and how we can stop/slow aging. Challenges: A lot of material is covered, but you get to choose which topics to become an expert in (the topics you are presenting on and the topics that inspire your grant proposals).  Although it is cross-listed as a QCB course, students are not expected to have formal QCB training, and general knowledge of basic statistics, like experimental n numbers and p-values, is sufficient.  If basic statistics or other concepts sounds unfamiliar to you, ask Professor Murphy about anything you are confused about, and she will explain it to you.

Learning From Classroom Instruction

The first week of class is unusual in that Professor Murphy does most of the talking and introduces us to the study of aging.  The rest of the course is dominated by students’ presentations.  In the first week, students rank their top three topics from Weeks 2-6 of the course and another three topics from Weeks 7-12.  Professor Murphy tries to accommodate everyone’s selection when assigning students their presentation topics.  Following the first week of class, Professor Murphy often begins class with a 10-15 minute overview of the topic covered that day, and the rest of class time is split between two students’ presentations.  Professor Murphy may interject to clarify upon students’ presentations and make sure that students are covering the key points she is looking for.  Students have the opportunity to ask either the student presenter or Professor Murphy questions following each presentation.  Since students may drop the course after the first week, there may be gaps in the students’ presentation schedule.  On those days, Professor Murphy usually assigns the whole class to read that paper carefully, and she may randomly call on people to explain each figure in the paper. To prepare for lecture, students should at least skim the abstract, figures, and discussion section of all the papers.  Students will learn how to better analyze and critique the literature and are encouraged to ask questions.

Learning For and From Assignments

Problem-sets: There are no problem-sets for this course. Papers: The assignments are very open-ended, and choosing a topic can be very difficult.  One piece of advice is to follow whatever interests you, and you can always ask Professor Murphy for her input on your ideas.  Since the grant proposals are inspired by what students want to build upon from current studies, it is helpful to do the assigned readings with this in mind so that you can take notes that you can go back to when you start brainstorming for your papers.  Scanning through the cited references from the assigned readings can also help you identify literature that you may want to cite in your papers. Tests: There are no tests for this course. Assigned readings: There are roughly five assigned papers per class, and students should at least skim the abstract, figures, and discussion section of each paper to prepare for lecture.  A strong understanding of the readings will help you contribute to class discussion.  If there is anything that is not understood from the readings, the students’ presentations may help clarify, and questions can be directed to either the student presenter or Professor Murphy. Presentations: Each presentation is roughly 30 minutes long.  The presentation takes several hours to prepare, maybe longer if students have little experience analyzing and critiquing papers.  According to Professor Murphy, most students do a good presentation.  If students have any questions about which figures are important to present or anything else regarding their presentation, they should email Professor Murphy for her advice.

External Resources

Pubmed is a great resource to use to find relevant literature for the assigned papers.  While Professor Murphy provides a model grant proposal and frequently checks her emails, students may choose to obtain further assistance with their papers at the Writing Center.        

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

  • Before going into the class, students may have a limited understanding of the “science” behind aging (e.g., telomere length). However, telomere length is actually one of the last topics to be covered!  When students leave the class, they will be introduced to a much broader understanding of the science behind aging.  Encompassing the study of metabolism, stress response, proteostasis, stem cells, epigenetics, inflammation, neuroscience, and more, the field of longevity is a great example of how work from different disciplines come together to contribute to a holistic understanding of the field of interest.
  • Students will learn how to critique and build upon existing literature by pointing out limitations in current studies and proposing their own experimental designs.
  • It is helpful if students have taken the MOL department fall Junior Tutorial because the skills learned from analyzing literature in Junior Tutorial will help you analyze literature in this course as well. However, it is important to note that the class has been taken by the rare underclassman and non-science major as well.
  • There is a lot of course reading, but students can skim whenever they need to.
Molecular Mechanisms of Longevity: The Genetics, Genomics, and Cell Biology of Aging

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