Fall 2020 - MBB 839 G100

Special Topics in Molecular Biology (3)

Cells & the Environment

Class Number: 3016

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 9 – Dec 8, 2020: Tue, 2:30–4:20 p.m.

    Sep 9 – Dec 8, 2020: Thu, 2:30–4:20 p.m.



Consideration of recent literature concerning selected contemporary research topics. Can be taken more than once with permission of instructor.



The cellular processes at the interface of cells and the environment will be explored in-depth. Through the use of lectures and group discussions and an emphasis on the primary literature, the focus will be on recent developments in molecular cell biology through the study of symbiosis and adaptation.


This course is an exploration into the cellular processes underlying adaptations as they relate to the environment outside the organism. The course relies on reading primary literature and will consist of interactive lectures, class discussions, and team-based learning.  A primary goal of the course is to strengthen student ability to read scientific papers critically and with perspective. A secondary goal is to enhance students’ scientific understanding of global warming and climate change, because fluency in this topic is important.    

Students will be expected to read up to 2 papers per week, and be prepared to present in class or discuss in an informal setting. A background in genetics, developmental and molecular biology is required. We will focus on a few topics and will explore them in depth, emphasizing recent developments.


  • Quizzes (ten total) 20%
  • Solo presentation of published paper 20%
  • Critical reviews of three papers (700 words each) 30%
  • Critical carbon footprint report 15%
  • Team-based Climate action plan 15%


  • Lectures:  Synchronous (students are expected to attend scheduled lectures remotely)
  • This is a seminar course with considerable class discussion.
  • Assessments:  blended; both synchronous and asynchronous assessments



  • Access to high-speed internet
  • Computer with webcam


We will read review articles and primary research papers.  A basic cell biology textbook may be useful as a refresher on certain topics. We will also make use of open-source data and other on-line resources.

Graduate Studies Notes:

Important dates and deadlines for graduate students are found here: http://www.sfu.ca/dean-gradstudies/current/important_dates/guidelines.html. The deadline to drop a course with a 100% refund is the end of week 2. The deadline to drop with no notation on your transcript is the end of week 3.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in fall 2020 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).