A very open final exam

This year I wanted my final exam for Molecular Cell Physiology (UNBC BIOL 312) to be as open as possible, so I’m posting it here online.

Students who take BIOL 312 at UNBC have already taken basic cell biology. BIOL 312 integrates the details of basic cell biology into larger concepts. We spent a lot of time this (online) semester studying developmental biology, including a book club discussion on Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish.

The final exam for this course is intended to allow the students to showcase everything that they have learned over the course of the past two semesters, and to use their detailed knowledge to assess big ideas in evolutionary developmental biology.

This is the final exam, below. I’d love to hear your ideas for improvement in future years.

Also feel free to use/modify/etc. this exam or concept for your own courses.

BIOL 312 Final Exam (2021 Winter semester) 

Each of these papers below, listed in chronological order of publication, is either a classic scholarly work in the field of evolutionary developmental biology or is a relatively new paper of potential long-term importance to the field.

The PDFs of these works are available in the final exam folder on Blackboard. They are also available via the UNBC library.

Lewis, E. B. (1978) A gene complex controlling segmentation in Drosophila. Nature 276:565-570. https://doi.org/10.1038/276565a0 Scholarly works that cite this paper. 

Nüsslein-Volhard, C. & Wieschaus, E. (1980) Mutations affecting segment number and polarity in Drosophila. Nature 287:795-801. https://doi.org/10.1038/287795a0 Scholarly works that cite this paper.

Daeschler, E. B., Shubin, N. H. & Jenkins, F. A. (2006) A Devonian tetrapod-like fish and the evolution of the tetrapod body plan. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04639 Nature 440:757-763. Scholarly works that cite this paper.

Tan, T., Wu, J., Si, C., Dai, S., Zhang, Y., Sun, N., … & Belmonte, J. C. I. (2021) Chimeric contribution of human extended pluripotent stem cells to monkey embryos ex vivo. Cell 184:2020-2032. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2021.03.020 Scholarly works that cite this paper.

Please pick one paper from the papers listed above as your exam topic.

Along with each citation above, I have included a Google Scholar link to scholarly works that cite the paper in question. In the case of the older works, those will give you some idea of the novel research that the paper you’re interested in has stimulated over the years.

This exam is, obviously, open book. You may use course materials or any other resources you wish. You may also discuss your work with others. However individual writing must be unique. I.e., don’t simply cut and paste from others’ work – write in your own words.

Please write a four-page (maximum), double-spaced, short paper describing the contents of the article that you have chosen. Please see below for the required outline. I will not mark beyond four pages. You must adhere to these formatting stipulations or you will lose marks.

  • Use 12-point font.
  • Use 2 cm margins all around.
  • The four pages must be double-spaced.
  • Use Times New Roman or Helvetica Neue font.

You should also include a short citation section at the end – the citation section does not count toward your page limit. The citation format is up to you, just be consistent.

Use concepts and terms we have discussed over the course of the semester.

Discuss one other scholarly work the article you have chosen has influenced or the work it will likely influence (for the newer article). The links to citations may be useful here, but you may also find other papers that relate to the concepts in your chosen article and to the concepts you will discuss in your exam paper. Be sure to properly cite this scholarly work.

Work to integrate many of the cell physiological (etc.) concepts that we have covered in BIOL 312 and in your introductory cell biology course (e.g. UNBC BIOL 311). In particular, discuss concepts related to evolutionary developmental biology. Think all the way from the scale of the genome to the cell to tissues, organs, and organisms… and then think about the evolution of genomes and organisms across deep time. Be creative and think broadly. Do not simply restate facts. Think and write around, above, below, and beyond the topic.

This exam must be handed in via the link provided in Blackboard. I will not accept or mark emailed submissions.

The exam is due at our scheduled exam date and end time: 1200h (noon) on Thursday 29-APR-2021 Pacific Daylight Time.

You are allowed one hand-in attempt at at time. If you hand something in to Blackboard in error, let me know and I will erase your attempt so that you can make another. Papers should be handed in as Blackboard-compatible file formats – so generally use DOCX or PDF files (although other files types may work).

This is the outline that you must follow:

  • ~0.75 pages: Discuss what the author(s) did. Write about hypotheses and concepts more than you write about techniques. Technology changes, but it can only be used effectively in the context of incisive questions and clear thinking. (5 points)
  • ~0.75 pages: Why is this paper important in the context of evolutionary developmental biology? (5 points)
  • ~1 page: Describe the influence of your chosen scholarly work on one subsequent scholarly work or on anticipated scholarly work, as described above. (5 points)
  • ~0.5 pages: Conclude/summarize. (5 points)
  • Include citations in any format you would like to use (does not count toward page limit).

I will be using this outline as the marking rubric, so please adhere to it.

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