Life appears to have originated on Earth nearly 4.5 billion years ago when the oceans boiled and the atmosphere had no oxygen. The changing conditions on our planet have defined the parameters within which life has existed. An increase in the amount of oxygen in the air from 2.5 billion to 500 million years ago eventually permitted “modern” animals to exist. Massive extinctions (especially at the end of the Permian Period) have narrowed the spectrum of species on the planet.
One theme of the seminar will be the origin of life, early evolution, implications for life in extreme environments, and possible life on Mars. Students with an appreciation of chemistry will perhaps better understand the concepts in this part of the seminar than those without, but the readings are intended to be non-technical. A second theme of the seminar is that science, as a human endeavor, is full of disagreements and political axes to grind. One of the most controversial areas of evolutionary science is the connection between genes and behavior. We will try to illuminate this controversy through class readings and discussions. The reading materials throughout the seminar will be enhanced and complemented by materials in other media, especially video and film. Books by writers on evolution and paleontology will be assigned. Professor Deis will also bring in appropriate fossils, shells, and minerals from his collection. Periodic papers will be assigned. The factual content of the course will require an occasional short quiz. Attendance and active class participation will contribute to each student’s grade. FRANK DEIS studied Chemistry at Rice University and the University of Virginia, and Medicinal Chemistry at the Medical College of Virginia. He has taught Biochemistry at Rutgers since 1977, and is author of Companion to Biochemistry (W.H. Freeman, 5th, 6th, and 7th ed.).
FRANK DEIS teaches several courses offered by the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, as well as administer courses, scheduling, and grading. Deis runs a laboratory course for non-majors and also acts as advisor for several classes of undergraduate Biochemistry majors.