Biology of Sex:  BIOL-10210
Spring 2014

Tuesdays & Thursdays 9:25-10:40 am, CNS 112


Instructor: Dr. Bruce P. Smith

"Temptation and Fall", Michelangelo.
From the Sistine Chapel Ceiling.
Office: 166 Center for Natural Sciences, Room 
Lab: 171 Center for Natural Sciences, Room
Phone: 274-3971
Office Hours: Tues. 1:00 – 3:00 pm, or by appointment

Text: Mealey, Linda, 2000.  Sex Differences: Developmental and Evolutionary Strategies.  Academic Press, 480 pp.  ISBN 0-12-487460-6

       The ability to reproduce is a defining characteristic of life, and of great interest to biologists as well as humanity in general. What is sex, and why did it develop? Why do we have sexual reproduction, whereas some animals do not? Why do some animals have sex at a distance, never coming close enough to detect each other, while others (including humans) have intimate contact and internal fertilization? These are all evolutionary questions. 

       This course is an evolutionary analysis of reproductive behavior: a comparative approach among animals, including humans, to isolate underlying motivation and better understand our own sexuality and behavior in a biological context. Topics include asexual and sexual reproduction, sex determination, genetic and environmental determinants of sexual behavior, male and female tactics, mating systems (monogamy, polyandry, polygyny), conflict of interests between the genders, courtship displays, mate choice, assuring paternity, parental care. 

This course carries the general education  designation of  ‘Science’ (2a), and  the perspective of  ‘Natural Sciences’ within the Integrated Core Curriculum (ICC).  In lecture, I emphasize scientific method – both  in terms of the methods used, and through numerous examples of how a scientific approach  is applied to questions involving Biology of Sex.  For the ICC, this course can be applied to one of two different themes:  ‘Identities’ and  ‘Inquiry, Imagination, and Innovation’.    Part of  the ‘Identities’ theme  is recognizing the relative contribution of ‘Nature’ and  ‘Nurture’.  This theme is explored through the development of sexual identity, mate choice, and mating systems in both non-human and human animals.  As mentioned, I emphasize scientific method through case studies, demonstrating how people apply these methods to answering basic questions regarding the Biology of Sex, hence the course is also a natural fit for the theme of ‘Inquiry, Imagination, and Innovation’. Please note that while this course can be used to satisfy general education / ICC  requirements,  it does not contribute towards course requirents for a majors degree in Biology. 


Learning Objectives:

The Biology Department has identified three Student Learning Objectives for General Education in Science:

        -  Students will develop an understanding of some basic scientific principles

        -  Students will develop an appreciation for the relevance of science to society, as well as some comprehension of the interaction of humans and the natural and physical world

        - Students will develop an understanding of the methods the natural sciences use to study the physical world


  After taking this course, students should:

        - understand what constitutes a science, and how science compares with other disciplines

        - know how is science conducted, including hypothesis testing, correlation vs. causation, comparative and experimental methods

        - understand and be familiar with certain foundation topics in Biology, including genetics, structure of DNA, mitosis/meiosis, evolution


Specific topics covered in this course include:

        -  sexual and asexual reproduction, and the relative significance of each

        -  various modes of sexual reproduction

        -  how sex is determined, and how sexual differentiation progresses in human development

        - theories of why sex evolved

        - the diversity of reproductive tactics and strategies used by animals

        - sexual selection: what traits result from sexual selection, what behaviors drive sexual selection

        - the diversity of mating systems encountered among animal species and among human cultures

        -  the evolutionary significance of parental care



             Lecture Test 1                                     20%

                   Lecture Test 2                                     20%

                   Lecture Test 3                                     20%

                   Final Exam                                          20%

                   Project                                                 15%

                  Sakai assessments & Attendance             5%


Letter grades correspond to the following percentages:


A = 93.3 – 100% A- = 90 – 93.2%

  B+ = 86.6 – 89.5%
B = 83.3 – 86.5% B- = 80 – 83.2%

C+ = 76.6 – 79.5% C  = 73.3 – 76.5% C-  = 70 – 73.2%
D+ = 66.6 – 69.5% D = 63.3 – 66.5% D- = 60 – 63.2% 

F = below 60%

Students taking this course to fulfill requirements within the ICC are reminded that they are responsible for submitting at least one completed assignment (artifact) to their electronic learning portfolio – in this course, your paper/project would be appropriate. For each submission, complete the ICC form within the directed response folio that includes a brief rationale for why you selected the artifact to show your achievement of the ICC student learning outcomes for this course and a reflection on how your learning in this particular course links to your other learning experiences.


    1. Lecture Tests:

Lectures are traditional in format, with a strong emphasis on audiovisual presentation.  Tests will be based on lectures (including concepts and examples covered in video clips) and assigned readings, and are not cumulative.  Questions will consist of two general types: a) one point questions, which may include multiple choice, one-word answers, simple definitions, fill in the blank, and/or matching questions   b) short-answer questions worth 3 to 5 points each.  These questions will be designed to test both factual knowledge and understanding. The final exam includes all material in the course, and will be in similar format.  Please note: No extra credit will be offered.  Also, grades are not fit to a bell curve.


2. Sakai Assessments:

These assessments consist of questions posted on the course Sakai website, typically at the end of each module (approx. 1 / week), and the deadline for completing the assignment is typically one week.  You are not evaluated on your performance on these assessments, but for your participation.


     3. Pop Quizzes:

  I may resort to using pop quizzes if a significant proportion of the class does not complete reading assignments before class.  These quizzes could represent a sum total of up to 5% of the course grade, which would be deducted from the alloted percentages of the lecture tests.


     4. Project / Paper:


    Each person will research and complete a project on some aspect of sexual biology.  You may use insight that you may have gained from your major, minor, or personal interests, but keep in mind that your paper must represent at least 50% Biology, and directly relate to the course material (i.e., sex, gender, sex determination, medical sexual abnormalities, mate choice, reproductive behavior, pheromones, mating systems, etc.).  The paper may overlap broadly with Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, etc., as long as there is the requisite biological content..   Please be aware that a project written for one course cannot be submitted for grading in another course (past, present or future; see Student Handbook).  For students satisfying ICC requirements, your choice of topic must reflect your chosen theme so that you can justify including this project/paper in your electronic learning portfolio.   Aim at a minimum of 6 pages (and no more than 10 pages; assuming 2,000 words = 8 pages), and at least 5 sources of information.  This is a ballpark estimate: with some topics you may be overwhelmed with information and it would be appropriate to use more sources, whereas with a very specialized topic you may have a hard time finding many sources.  If you are reviewing a book, then a smaller number of sources may be appropriate.  One approach would be to conduct a web survey: choose a topic relevant to the course and search for appropriate websites, and write a summary of the information provided. Remember, this is worth 15% of your grade: you want your effort to reflect this value.  This project  is an assessment of your ability to research, summarize, and organize information  into a cohesive synthesis.  Note: the penalty for missed deadlines is 5% per day.  The paper/project must be in electronic format, prepared as a Word document, and submitted on Sakai (under Assignments).   Please note: it is your responsibility to verify that the file has been successfully uploaded to Sakai (i.e., you need to then download acopy of  your file, open it, and check that it is OK).


5. Course Evaluation:

Student input is highly valued and is important to maintain high quality instruction.  We do take these seriously: the input is used when making decisions as to whether a faculty member receives a promotion or merit pay.  Course evaluations must be completed by the last day of class.  The evaluation will be submitted to Nancy Pierce, Administrative Assistant in Biology, and she will verify that you have submitted the form.  Once that has been checked, your identification will be removed and will not be printed with the comments. Further instructions will be given at the end of the semester.



1. Attendance:

       The Ithaca College Attendance Policy states that students are expected to attend classes and that they are responsible for all material even when absent.  Acceptable reasons for absence include 1) student illness, requiring the student to be bed-ridden; 2) death or serious illness in immediate family; 3) appearance in court; 4) religious holidays.

       On a practical level, it is essential to attend lecture in order to do well in the course.  Not all of the material presented in lecture is covered in the textbook, and I will make extensive use of video footage, that is not available outside of class. Also, coverage of some topics in the text is detailed and technical: part of the function of lecture is to provide background and guidance that is necessary for required readings.  While I hope that I do not have to enforce attendance, my policy is that you may be penalized conspicuous unexplained absence: a letter-grade for missing more than 10% of your classes, or you may be withdrawn from the class if you continue to miss classes beyond the first penalty.

       An exam missed during an unexcused absence (i.e. oversleeping or not being prepared) will result in a zero grade for that exam.  If you miss a exam, you MUST inform me before the test if at all possible, but if not physically capable, then notify me as soon as possible afterwards.  You can send me e-mail, phone my number (above) or the Biology Department (607-274-3161) to leave a message.  If you don’t have the number, check on the website or phone directory assistance for the college.  Such notification does not guarantee my accepting your reason for absence, but failing to notify me guarantees you will not be excused.


2. Readings:

       You are expected to complete the assigned readings BEFORE coming to class, as a background to that day's lecture.  If you have any questions regarding material in the reading, please ask during class.   Remember, if it is evident to me that few students are completing the readings, I may have to resort to pop quizzes to encourage students to prepare for class.  On the course schedule, numbers with ‘T’ indicate readings in the textbook, numbers with ‘S’ indicate readings available on Sakai.  A complete listing of readings (page numbers, and headings in the textbook) will be listed on a document called ‘Biology of Sex – Required Readings.doc’ under ‘Resources/Readings’ in Sakai.


3. Questions:

       Please feel free to ask questions in class.  Chances are that if there is something that you don't understand, then others in the class are also confused - don’t hesitate to ask your question.  I may choose to save the question and answer for next class if I want to research the question or use audiovisuals in the explanation.

       You may also visit during office hours, or make an appointment for an alternative time, if you would like to ask questions in person.  Another forum for questions is the Discussions section of Sakai.  This is especially appropriate for questions that others in the class may also ask, e.g., regarding class content.  Other students in the class can also reply to questions posted in Discussions, or add to your question. I will check the Discussions section at least twice per week.  If you have personal questions (e.g., details regarding your grade) then email or personal contact would be most appropriate.


4. Personal Conduct:

       "A student's behavior must not interfere with the activities of the College or with other student's pursuit of educational objectives" (see General Information, Undergraduate Announcements).  Talking during lecture (except for questions or participating in class discussions) is disruptive and is disrespectful to other students and the instructor.  Cell phones, pagers, etc. are to be kept turned off during classes.  Disruptions may result in the student being asked to leave the class and the student will be considered absent without excuse.  If asked to leave class on more than one occasion, the student will be withdrawn from the course. When discussing sex, please do not use slang or phrases that others might find offensive. If someone continued to use inappropriate language after having been warned, it could result in that individual being withdrawn from the course.  Similar procedures will be followed if the appropriateness of language or comments in written form is questionable.  If flagrant offenses occurred, the student could be judicially referred for disciplinary action.


5. Academic Honesty:

All the work in this class must be your own, unless stated otherwise.  Please note college policy that material submitted for grades in one course cannot be submitted for credit in another course - your presentation cannot be based on an article used in another class.  Confirmed instances of academic misconduct will result in a zero for that test or assignment and referral to the school judiciary system.  Please refer to the Student Handbook for a detailed description of the policies regarding student academic conduct.


6. Accommodations:

In compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, reasonable accommodation will be provided to students with documented disabilities on a case-by-case basis. Students must register with Student Disability Services and provide appropriate documentation to Ithaca College before any academic adjustment will be provided.

       Diminished mental health, including significant stress, mood changes, excessive worry, or problems with eating and/or sleeping can interfere with optimal academic performance. The source of symptoms might be strictly related to your course work; if so, please speak with me. However, problems with relationships, family worries, loss, or a personal struggle or crisis can also contribute to decreased academic performance.  Ithaca College provides a Counseling Center to support the academic success of students. The Counseling Center provides cost-free services to help you manage personal challenges that threaten your well-being.


7. Plagiarism:

       Please be aware of plagiarism: if you take a sentence from someone else's work and only change one or a couple of words, it is still plagiarism even if you cite the source.  You must rewrite the information or ideas in your own words.  Plagiarism is a serious offense of academic misconduct: check the student handbook and library website

for details, but it can lead to judicial proceedings and even expulsion from the college.  Please note that the required assignment in this course may be checked for plagiarism using Turnitin. Each idea has to be referenced (and in the sentence where the idea appears), you cannot simply cite the reference once at the end of a paragraph containing many ideas from the same source.  In such cases, you can avoid referencing each idea yet still indicate your source through careful writing,



"Roberts and Janovy (1985) were the first to study this phenomenon.  They found that ..., further, when the ... .  Roberts and Janovy go on to state that ... and their conclusion was... ."




"Roberts and Janovy (1985) were the first to study this phenomenon.  In the following paragraph, I will review their work. ....."


Additional information regarding how to properly cite sources in scientific writing will be provided when the course project is assigned. 

Lecture Schedule; Tues/Thurs. 9:25 - 10:40 am, CNS 112

[Disclaimer: this is not a fixed schedule, it is a forecast of the pace at which we will cover the material.]




Jan. 21/23

Introduction;  Perspectives, Nature vs. Nurture; Comparative Approach; What is Sex?  Asexual vs.Sexual reproduction; Modes of Fertilization

 1-S, 2-S, 3-T

Jan. 28/30

Species Concepts; DNA Structure, Damage, Repair; Organization of Genetic Material; Mitosis & Meiosis

4-S, 5-T


Feb.    4/6

How Does Evolution Work?  Evolution of Sex and Separate Genders; Development of Biological Genders; Polygenic Traits; Why Sex?

6-T, 7-T, 8-T, 9-T, 10-T; 15-S

Feb. 11/13

Theories of Why We Have Sex: Muller’s Ratchet, & Red Queen Hypothesis; Problems with Inbreeding Test 1 (Feb. 13th)


Feb. 18/20

Genetic Recombination; Life-History Decisions; Sex Determination; Sex Ratio; Sexual Differentiation

12-T, 13-T, 14-T, 16-S, 17-S, 18-S, 19-T

Feb. 25/27

Sex Differences, & Gender; What Is Normal? Disorders of Sexual Development; Life History Strategy

20-T, 21-T, 22-S, 23-S, 24-S, 25-T

March 4/6

Sexual Selection; Sex Role Reversals; Male Tactics (Non-Human): Attracting Mates, Manipulating Other Males,  Sperm Competition Deadline: Topic for Paper  (March 4th)

26-T, 27-T

March     8-16



March 18/20

Male Tactics (Non-Human): Thwarting Female Choice; Female Tactics (Non-human): Attracting, Evaluating, and Manipulating Mates          Test 2 (March 20th)

28-T, 29-T

March 25/27

Female Tactics (Non-Human): Thwarting Unwanted Males, Manipulating other Females; Mating Systems: Polygyny (4 types), Polyandry, Polygynandry, Monogamy

30-T, 31-T

April  1/3

Why be Monogamous (3 Theories)?  Mate Choice (5 Theories); The Human Animal; Human Evolution

32-T, 33-T

April 8/10

Human Tactics: Attracting & Assessing Potential  Partners (Sexual & Social); Pheromones   Paper Due (April 8th)

33-T, 34-T, 35-S

April 15/17

Human Tactics: Attracting & Assessing Potential  Partners (Sexual & Social);  Human Tactics: Manipulating Others; Alternative Tactics; The Evolutionary Interpretation of Homosexuality  Test 3 (April 17th)

36-T, 37-T, 38-T

April 22/24

Human  Mating Systems: Prehistory; Marriage; Polygyny; Polyandry, Polygynandry, Monogamy, Economics and  Marriage

39-T, 40-T, 41-T

April 29/ May 1

Parental Care, Parental Favoritism, Siblicide; Infanticide, Kin Selection, Inclusive Fitness; Sex and Society; New Technologies Develop, Where Are We Going?  Course Evaluations Due

42-T, 43-T, 44-T

numbers with ‘T’ indicate readings in the textbook, numbers with ‘S’ indicate readings available on Sakai


FINAL EXAM: Thursday May 8 10:30 am 1 pm


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Last updated: 1/17/2014