Biology 446 - Unsolved Problems in Cell Biology - Fall 2017

Meets Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 10:10 AM-11:00 AM, Genome Sciences Building Room 1374

Albert Harris:
Office 103 Wilson Hall; phone 919-966-1230
Home phone 919-493-1572 (Durham)

Office Hours: 11:00 to 12:00 Monday and Wednesday, and by appointment



Wed. August 23: Philosophy of Science Assignment: Please read this web page.

Fri. August 25: Assignment: Read the book "The Double Helix" by James Watson

Mon. August 28: Continue discussing the lessons of Watson's autobiography.

Topics that we might consider discussing this semester    [Word document]
The first page was handed out in class on Monday, but the second page wasn't photocopied.
Please look at this before Wednesday. Other suggestions of topics will be welcome.



Fri. September 1: Osteoporosis; Electric Fields in tissues; Transmembrane voltage functions. Please read these notes before the next class.

Wed. September 6: Wikipedia page on the epiphyseal plate

In particular, look at this image from this page


Fri. September 8: some videos of moving sponge cells and macrophages


Mon. September 11: Please read the following for Wednesday:

Wed. September 13: Begin autoimmune diseases: Please read for Friday

Fri. September 15: [posted Thursday 3:30 pm]

Another Wikipedia link on MS that's worth a look: It's long-winded, but tantalizing in some of its details.


Mon. September 18: continuing with multiple sclerosis:


Mon. September 18: Please read the following for Wednesday:

Wed. September 20:

Fri. September 22:

Wed. October 4:

Fri. October 6:

Mon. October 9:

Wed. October 11: Please read Chapter 10 in the book Cell and Matrix Mechanics, edited by Roland Kaunas and Assaf Zemel.

Written assignment on this chapter, due Monday, October 16.


Mon. October 23:

Fri. October 27:

Wed. November 1:

Fri. November 3:

    From this course in fall 2000:

    This contains links to short programs that I wrote in Pascal. We used to be able to run these programs directly on your computer, by clicking on their names, but unfortunately they no longer work. We need someone to translate them into Python, Java or some other web-compatible language, so that students will be able to run these programs again. If you have these skills, please let me know!


    The scanning EM image of a HeLa cell rounding up. (A printout of this image was included in the "Dozen Questions" handout but this link will give you the color version.) Sometime when you're thinking about this, Google "pizza slices stringy cheese images".


Wed. November 8:

Fri. November 10:

Mon. November 13:

Wed. November 15:

Fri. November 17:

Mon. November 27:

Wed. November 29:

Fri. Dec 1:

Mon. Dec 4:



Format of the final exam.

review questions for the final exam

More questions were added Friday at 12:30 and at 3:15. There will be more yet.

A few more questions were added Saturday at 7:15 pm, and three more on Sunday at 1:00 pm. No more questions will be added.




James Watson mentions that he was stimulated to go into science by reading the book "Microbe Hunters," by Paul De Kruif, when he was a boy. This same book is credited by every scientific biography I have read, and it also stimulated me when I read it at about age 10.

There is a YouTube video called "Paul De Kruif: The Microbe Hunter and Author" presented by John Lehman, who is a Professor and administrator at ECU medical school. This is nearly an hour long, and is not required, but you may find it interesting.

Please do read the article at this URL:

From the Wikipedia article about about "Microbe Hunters":

"...Paul de Kruif... 1926 book, Microbe Hunters.. a bestseller for a lengthy period... has remained high on lists of recommended reading for science and inspiration for many aspiring physicians and scientists."

This entire book is posted on the web, but is NOT assigned reading for this course:


Another book worth reading, but not required, is the novel "Arrowsmith" by Sinclair Lewis.
You can get the entire text on line here.

Quotes from the Wikipedia article about the novel "Arrowsmith":

"Arrowsmith is arguably the earliest major novel to deal with the culture of science."
"This novel has been inspirational for several generations of pre-medical and medical students."
"Professional jealousy, institutional pressures, greed, stupidity, and negligence... also tireless dedication, and respect for the scientific method and intellectual honesty."



This course requires the equivalent of a term paper, which is due to be turned in no later than the week before Thanksgiving. How to write this paper is described in the link below. You have to find a published research paper, the conclusions of which have turned out to be seriously wrong. That doesn't mean "fraudulent" and it also doesn't just mean that progress has shown the truth to be more complicated. Specific examples of appropriate papers will be discussed in class.

The Dreaded Erroneous Research Paper Assignment

Assigned class reports and participation in class discussion will also be part of the grade.