Spring 2022 - BISC 475 D100

Special Topics in Biology (3)

Biology of Sex

Class Number: 5416

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Mo 8:30 AM – 9:20 AM
    WMC 2202, Burnaby

    Th 8:30 AM – 10:20 AM
    WMC 2202, Burnaby

  • Instructor:

    Tony Williams
    1 778 782-4982
    Office: SSB 8151
  • Prerequisites:

    To be announced.



Selected topics not currently offered in the Department of Biological Sciences.


Prerequisites:  BISC 101 and BISC 102, both with a grade of C- or better, plus completion of at least 75 units

Course Title:

Course description

Selected topics in biology of sex designed for any and all upper division Biology Majors. The course will consider sex from a molecular/cellular to ecological/evolutionary perspective.

Course outline

Reproduction is a fundamental feature of all known life, but not all organisms use sex to reproduce. Sex also has lots of disadvantages, yet sexual reproduction is the most common form of reproduction in plants and animals. The simple question “Why?” has a surprisingly complex answer. Sex has been described as “an enigma within a mystery” and one of the “major unexplained phenomena in biology”. This course will take a broad, comparative (i.e. human and non-human) approach to the mystery of sex and show-case the extraordinary diversity of life which has evolved because of sex. Some of the specific topics we will cover will include:


To have sex or not (sexual versus asexual reproduction)

The HOW of sex (mitosis, meiosis, recombination)

Costs, benefits and the WHY of sex (two-fold cost, Red Queen hypothesis)

Having sex with yourself (hermaphrodites, self-fertilisation)

Many ways to become male or female (sex determination and sexual differentiation)

Sex doesn’t always involve one male and one female (mating systems, sexual conflict)

Sex and cooperation between the sexes (parental care)

How much effort should you put into sex? (costs and trade-offs)

How do you know when to have sex? (seasonal reproduction)



  • 1st Lecture Midterm 15%
  • 2nd Lecture Midterm 15%
  • Lecture Final 30%
  • 1 PowerPoint slide sex story, 3 minute classroom presentation 15%
  • 1 PowerPoint slide sex story, written summary 10%
  • Two-page popular media story/blog on a topic in reproduction 15%



No Textbook is required for this course.

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 spring 2022 will involve primarily in-person instruction, with safety plans in place.  Some courses will still be offered through remote methods, and if so, this will be clearly identified in the schedule of classes.  You will also know at enrollment whether remote course components will be “live” (synchronous) or at your own pace (asynchronous).

Enrolling in a course acknowledges that you are able to attend in whatever format is required.  You should not enroll in a course that is in-person if you are not able to return to campus, and should be aware 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.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who may need class or exam accommodations, including in the context of remote learning, are advised to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112) as early as possible in order to prepare for the spring 2022 term.