Biology 111

BIOL 111 - Introduction to Modern Biology @ UBC

In this post I will attempt to summarize all of the content from the BIOL 111 course at the University of British Columbia. Absolutely DO NOT cite this. Facts are very simplified and could even just be fully wrong!

Table of Contents

  1. Life

    1. 7 Qualifiers of Life

    2. Cells

    3. Plants

    4. Animals

    5. DNA

  2. Ecosystems

    1. Speciation

    2. Evolution

    3. Ecology

    4. Population

  3. Human Health

    1. Cell Cycle

    2. Cancer

    3. Hormones

    4. Nutrition

    5. Disease

    6. Biotechnology

Course Structure

This was how the course was graded.

Weekly Quizes 15%
Weekly activities* 15%
Poster* 5%
Midterm 10%
Video/poster* 20%
Museum activity 5%
Final 25%

* = Group assignment

So as you can see, most of the grades come from assignments rather than exams. Even in the exams you are allowed a memory sheet. I think this is because there is A LOT you are supposed to learn in this course and they know they are unable to sufficently teach all of it. The intent of BIOL 111 is to catch those who didn't take biology in high school up to those who did. It is pretty difficult to do that in just one term. By not relying on exams as much, people can get by not really knowing that much of the curriculum. This approach to the course was probably good for my grade but it still felt wrong to me.

The first half hour of the lectures was a mini lesson that was not related to the curriculum at all. In fact the professor even said that nothing in the mini lessons would show up on exams. You might ask "what is the purpose of attending these mini lessons then?" Well I was wondering the same thing. I purposely arrived at class half an hour late to skip them. The next hour would be spent on a group activity where we research something thats related to the topic we are at in the textbook.

The textbook is called "Life Matters: Connecting Biology to Your World". Every week we are assigned a new chapter to read and then do a quiz on. By the way we HAD to pay $100 for the textbook. The professors just happen to be authors so it seems pretty unethical to me. We already paid tuition and now we have to hand over another $100 or else fail the course. The University should change policy to stop this kinda thing happening.

Okay now that you know how much I hate how this course was run, here is hopefully all of the things you should know. I ordered it in the same way it was "taught."


Life is pretty fucking cool. Like in the earliest days of our planet there wasn't any and then... wwgwgwgwwugug. Thats the sound of abiogenisis🤩 - life emerging from non life. How did it happen? I dunno, but clearly it did because ever since, life has been reproducing and evolving and speciating. Crazy, wild stuff! By the end of this section you should know what qualifies as life. You should know about the structure of cells, plants, and animals. And you should know how proteins are created based on information in DNA.

7 Qualifiers of Life

So you think you are alive, huh? Why don't you read through this criteria of qualities necessary in life to be sure of it!

Honestly I disgaree with a lot of these. If replication happend but evolution somehow didn't, would that mean life wouldn't exist? If there was some organism that somehow had no need to regulate its internal environment, is it no longer life? If I cut my balls off would I cease to be an example of life? I would say no, but this list seems to say yes.

I think the only edge case in the categorization between life and nonlife would be viruses. Some scientists do consider viruses life but the textbook says NO because they can't reproduce without hijacking another organism.


Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes

You can split cells into two groups: Prokaryotes (Latin: before-nucleus) and Eukaryotes (Latin: true-nucleus).

Prokaryotes came first, then the better and cooler eukaryotes evolved from them.

The difference betwen the two is that prokaryote DNA - unlike eukaryote - isn't contained in a membrane-bound organelle (Nucleus). Instead prokaryote DNA just floats loosely in something called a Nucleoid???

With that strategy its easy to see why the only members of the prokaryote empire are the pathetic Bacteria and Archaea domains.

Eukaryotes however sport the greatest of what life has to offer (such as myself). More generally, eukaryotes have these 4 member kingdoms:

Structures Shared by both

Eukaryotes came from prokaryotes, so naturally they share a lot of structures.

Diagram of typical prokaryote cell

Plasma membrane:

Layer covering the cell

Controls what can get inside the cell


Jelly substance that fills the cell membrane

Houses all the organelles


deoxyribosenucleic acids

Stores the information needed to create the proteins


Large molecules who's role depends on its 3D structure

They pretty much do everything (structure, defence, energy, transport, enzymes, and hormones).


Molecular machines that synthesize proteins

Think its cool how weird little protein machines that reproduce came into existence on their own? Well take a look at the even more advanced eukaryote exclusive structures!

Eukaryote exclusives

Diagram of typical animal cell

Diagram of typical plant cell


Membrane -bound organelle that contains the DNA

Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER):

Network of tubes for transporting proteins

  • Smooth ER: no ribosomes

  • Rough ER: has ribosomes

Golgi Complex:

Packages proteins into vesicles for transport


Something in the cell protected by a membrane


Stores chemical energy in ATP proteins for transport (cellular respiration).

Also this.


Do photosynthesis in plant cells

I'm sure the more sophisticated methods of transporting proteins really impressed you. If it didn't, remember that you have your entire existence to thank for it!


What's a plant?

If ever comes a time when you hear the question "What are plants?" escape an Alien's lips, heres what you should say:

"Plants are multicellular sessile primary producers that use photosynthesis"

To this definition the Alien would say, "oh, Gobolovehgojyogas! We have those too!" (due to the phenomenon of convergent evolution, Aliens would probably have life forms analogous to plants)

Plant Specific Organelles

Plants cells are more rigid and also they do the photosynthesis thing!

The rigidity comes from tugor pressure which is internal pressure against the cell wall.

Diagram of typical plant cell

Central Vacuole:

One large vesicle filled with water to provide tugor pressure

Cell Wall:

Resists tugor pressure


Made of cellulose

Permeable to water and some solutes

Can loosen for growth


Made of lignin (very rigid)

Impenetrable to water and some solutes

Lignin prevents cell growth



Stores chlorophyl - green pigment that does photosynthesis


Stores other pigments


Stores things that aren't pigment

Plant Growth

Plants grow from tissues called meristems (sorta like stemcells but for plants).

Meristems are made of undifferentiated cells that divide. These cells will later differentiate into specific roles in the plant.

Apical meristem

Apical meristems are the meristem tissues are the tips of the plant.

We call it "apical" because thats like "apex" which is latin and using latin means we are smart and better than you.

Primary growth is when plants grow taller through cell divisions in the apical meristems

There is Shoot Apical Meristem at the top and Root Apical Meristem at the bottom.

Roots have a root cap to protect the root apical meristem as they grow into the earth.

Apical dominance is when one tip (usually the trunk) grows more than others. This occurs when an inhibiting growth hormone called auxin limits growth in other apical meristems.

Axillary buds are areas of a plant which may develop into new shoots. Apical dominance halts their growth.

Lateral Meristem

This is meristem tissue at the sides.

Secondary growth is when cells increase in diameter through division in the lateral meristems.

Root Systems

Fibrous Roots System

Taproot System

The 3 Plant Tissue Systems

Dermal Tissue: Protective outer layer


Waxy layer that prevents water loss



Guard Cells:

Controls opening of stomata (pores on leaves)

Vascular Tissue: Transports water, nutrients, and carbohydrates


Made of tracheory elements (they are dead lignified cells)

Transport stuff up


Made of sieve elements (they are living cells - thats all I know sorry)

Transport stuff down

Ground Tissue: Neither dermal, nor vascular

Sorry :/

Parenchyma Tissue:

Latin: filler-tissue

Soft tissue that fills in portions of a plant (fruit flesh)

Collenchyma Tissue:

Latin: glue-tissue

Flexible structural supports (celery strings)

Sclerenchyma Tissue:

Latin: hard-tissue

Hard walls of dead lignifed tissue (nutshells)


Alright finallllly we are at animals. All biologists will tell you that animals are better than other life forms. Nobody cares about botany. NO ONE!

Animals are multicellular heterotophs (consume other organisms for energy). They can also move around and whatever.

The 4 Animal Tissues

Yeah thats right plants, we have FOUR

Epidermal Tissue:

Protective outerlayer. Covers the body and internal organs.

Connective Tissue:

I hope to god I don't have to know them all, but here they are...

It's loose I guess???

Loose Connective tissue


Fibrous Connective tissue

Ears have cartilage




These guys from Doctor Who

Adipose (fat)

Get it? He's a vampire.


Nervous Tissue:

Generate and transmit electrical signals (neurons)

Muscle Tissue:

For movement. There are three types.

  • Skeletal muscle: Move limbs

  • Cardiac muscle: Move blood

  • Smooth muscle: Move stuff through digestive system

Okay, good job comitting all of that nonsense to memory! Now we can get to DNA which is the most cool thing about this course.


What is DNA

You probably know this so I'll keep it short.

DNA is a double stranded chain of nucleotides. Every nucelotide has a base.

The 4 bases are adenine(A), thymine(T), cytosine(C), guanine(G)

The bases have pairs that they hydrogen bond to.

A-T, and C-G

Sequences of these bases make up genes which code for proteins

There is secret fifth base called uracine(U) which can replace T. It is only used by RNA though because it is less stable and DNA (which should last a long time) requires stability more.

The Central Dogma of Molecular Biology

Why is it called "the central dogma of molecular biology"? I don't have the slightest bit of a clue.

For some reason they chose that odd term to refer to "the flow of information from DNA to protiens."

In a simplified way it goes:

DNA ―transcription―> pre-mRNA ― RNA processing―> mature mRNA ― translation―> Proteins

You don't know what those are though, so I'll explain.


So transcription is the process of creating an RNA copy of a gene (strand of DNA that codes for a protein).

RNA is like DNA but single stranded and can move around to go get translated into a protein.

We call this mRNA for messenger RNA because it will carry the genetic information from the DNA to the ribosomes.

Here are the steps of transcription


  1. Transcription factors (proteins) bind at the transcription factors site - behind the promoter (region of gene that signifies the start of a gene)

  2. RNA polymerase (a Molecular machine) binds to transcription factors

  3. DNA double helix opens up


  1. RNA polymerase zooms along 1 strand of DNA - at each base it waits till it recieves the matching base pair, and then stitches it into the RNA chain


  1. Termination sequence (region of DNA that signifies the end of a gene) is reached and the RNA is released

RNA Processing

Fresh from creation, mRNA isn't ready to fufill its life's purpose (protein synthesis). There is still some processing to do first!

  1. Something called a 5' cap is added at the start (where the primer was) to protect the mRNA.

    Its called "5' cap" because they use "5'" to refer to the start of the RNA. They call the start "5'" instead of "start" for some gross chemistry reason that I don't understand (its where the fifth carbon is???). 3' refers to the end of the RNA incase you need to know! (which hopefully you won't)

  2. Something called a Poly-A tail is added at the end, also to protect the mRNA.

  3. For some reason the mRNA has all these non-coding intron sequences. We have to remove them through Splicing and link all the coding exon sequences together with a protein called spliceosome.

Alright! Finally the mRNA is ready for its big show! We call mRNA that has been processed mature mRNA.


Now it gets real. DNA to RNA? pfff.. They're both chains of nucleotide bases. Translation is where it gets SERIOUS. I'm talking RNA to proteins baby! Nucleotide base sequences to amino acids! Yeah we are going there! Lets get INTO IT!!!


Sequence of 3 nucleotide bases. Every codon corosponds to an amino acid. Some code for the same amino acids.


Codon which is made of the base pair of another codon

Amino Acid:

Molecules that will combine to create a protein

tRNA (transfer RNA):

RNA with an amino acid attached

Polypeptide chain:

Chain of multiple amino acids. When it is "large enough" it is deemed a protein


  1. Mature mRNA leaves the nucleus (we were there cause thats where DNA is)

  2. Ribosomal subunits recognize 5'cap and attach to the translation start site.


  1. tRNA anticodon binds to the shown mRNA codon

  2. Amino acids on tRNA forms peptide bond with chain

  3. tRNA is released and the next mRNA codon is shown


  1. Eventually the stop codon is reached and the pepride chain is released.

Good job! Now you have finished learning the most interesting thing in this course! Its all downhill from here.


Actually epigentics is reallly fricking cool. Basically its about how your phenotype (expressed genes) can change without your genotype changing. These changes can even be passed to offspring! Does that sound CRAZY to you? Yeah, yeah I bet it does.


DNA is wrapped around a protein (histones) which forms chromatin.

When chromatin is tight (heterochromatin) traits are less expressed, and when loose (Euchromatin) they are more expressed.

The tightness can change over your life and can be passed on to your children

Read this wikipedia aricle cause it actually is really cool.


Oh no. Not ecosystems! Why hath thou foresaken us to study a subject so dreadful?


Definitions of Species: Just like life, the definition of species is subjective. Because of this there are many interpretations.

The biological interpretation is the one you should care about. Also keep in mind that there are organisms that only interbreed to produce infertile offspring. Mules, child of donkey and horse, are incapable of reproducing. Very sad for them.


The creation of a species.

Occurs when two populations lose the ability of interbreeding to produce fertile offspring. There are 2 ways this can happen.

Population Pairings: Species proximity

Speciation in Sympatric Populations: Speciation while occupying the same area is a strange one isn't it? How do you lose the ability to interbreed while living with each other? Well anyone married longer than 5 years might be able to tell you ha ha ha... Seriously though, how?

Evolution and Selection

Evolution and selection is really fucking cool but I won't spend so much time on it cause we don't really learn anything that isn't super basic or common knowledge. You know the story: Biotic factors like interspective (between species) and intraspective (within species) competion, as well as abiotic factors like climate create selection pressure which gives some organisms an advantage in spreading genes through the gene pool, founder effect, natural selection, evolution, intelligent design is false, god is dead, blah, blah ,blah...

Convergent Evolution

Doesn't this guy look like a dog? (he's not)



The relationship between organisms and their environment

So yeah, real boring stuff.


All the populations of species within a given place and time

Symbiosis: Long term interactions between species

Invasive species:

An introduced species that outcompetes native species

Endemic species:

Species that only exist in one region

Trophic level:

How distanced a species energy source is away from primary producers

So plants are level 1 cause they are primary producers. Herbivores level 2, carnivores level 3, apex predators level 4...

Trophic cascade: How changes at one end of the food chain will affect species at the other

Top down control: Higher levels (apex predators) influencing those below

Bottom up control: Lower levels (plants) influencing those above

Keystone species:

Species with a dispropotionately high influence on the environment base on their population.

Beavers, starfish, apex predators


Habitat and resources a species requires.

Competitive Exclusion Principal (Gause's Law):

Two species cannot occupy the same niche and have stable population levels.

Climax Community:

Ecosystem is stable.


Events that alter properties of the ecosytem - destabilizing it.

eg) tree falls, whale carcass falls to the ocean floor, earthquake


How a community changes following a disturbance.

  • Primary: Development of a community from a baren environment

  • Secondary: Severe disturbance (like a forest fire) wipes out a lot of a community and then it redevelopes over time.

The stages of succession go grasses then shrubs then trees.


Population ecology is about studying changes in population size.

They have math and data visualizations so I guess its kind of cool.

Carrying Capacity:

The maxmimum population of a species an environment can hold due to limiting factors such as access to energy.

Growth models: Mathermatical models for predicting population growth.


Grows exponentially 🙄 (blue)


Grows and then hits carrying capactiy and stabilizes (brown)

Generation Time:

Time it takes for a species to reach reproductive age.

r/K selection theory:

This equation is used to logistically model populations

\[\text{derivative of population}=rN(1-\frac{N}{K})\]
  • N: population

  • r: reproduction rate

  • K: carrying capacity

r/k selection theory says that species either evolve to optimize for reproducion rate (r strategists) or carrying capactiy (K strategists).

r Strategists:

  • Small

  • Short lives

  • Have many offspring

  • Low generation time

  • Most don't survive to adulthood

  • eg) insects, rats, grasses

K Strategists:

  • Large

  • Long lives

  • Have few offspring

  • High generation time

  • Require more parental care

  • Higher liklihood of surviving to adulthood

  • eg) humans, whales, elephants

I'm glad we are K strategists. Imagine having an expected lifespan of two hours.

Survivorship curve:

An individual's probability of surviving as it gets older

Human Health

Cell Cycle


  1. Interphase

    1. G1: Cell grows

    2. S: DNA synthesis (duplicate dna)

    3. G2: Cell grows again

    Theres also G0 where the cell just... takes a break???

Isn't actually a part of mitosis - happens just before it

  1. Prophase (before)

    Chromatin condenses into chromosomes

  1. Metaphase (between)

    Chromosomes align in the center

  1. Anaphase (back)

    Sister chromatids are pulled to opposite sides

  1. Telophase (end)

    Cell begins to divide


Cell divides.

In animal cells an indent called a cleavage furrow (hahah) forms and gets tighter and tighter till it splits the cell in half.

For plants a new cell wall called a cell plate forms - splitting the cell in half.

Cell cycle checkpoints: Processes which check for errors and fixes them if they are found. Proteins do them in ways I do not understand.


Cancer happens when cells divide like crazy without regulation.

Genes that have a possibility of mutating to form these cancerous cells are called proto-oncogenes.

Proto-oncogenes tend to be genes that code for programmed cell death (apoptosis) or limiting growth.

When mutations break these genes they become oncogenes and produce cancerous cells.

Cancerous cells divide unregulated to create lumps called tumours (or neoplasms if you want to use a word no one will understand)

4 Types of Cancer


The spread of cancerous cells throught the body

The cancerous cells take a fun little ride through the circulatory system to find new places to conquer and form tumours!


A treatment for cancer where high-energy radiation is applied to tumours in hopes it will damage cancerous cell dna till they cannot replicate.

Chemotheropy does not just target cancer cells so people undergoing the treatment feel really really bad during it.

Cancer Stem Cell Hypothesis

The belief that cancer stem cells are the main cells which drive metastasis and replication.

New research seeks to find a way to target these cancer stem cells

The academics who developed the cancer stem cell hypothesis were Canadian (the textbook is really proud of this).


Programmed cell death.

Important so that damaged cells don't continue to replicate.


Hormones are molecules that communicate something to cells. When released, hormones become bonded to receptor proteins which is how cells sense the hormone.

Hormomes are like neurotransmitters but hormones are slow acting on many areas of the body while neurotransmitters are fast acting on just one area of the body.

autocrine regulation is when hormone communcated with the cell that released it. This happens to adjust sensitivy to stimuli

Paracine regulation is when the hromone acts on neighbour cells.

Peptide hormones: bind to the surface of cell membrane (adrenaline)

Steroid and fatty acid hormones: bind to water soluable carrier proteins to be transported around. Bind to receptors in cytoplasm or nucleus. Sythesize new proteins so are slow acting. (estrogen and testosterone)

Endocrine glands secrete hormones into blood

Plant Hormones

Phototropism: Plants grow toward light

Gravitropism: Plants grow against gravity

Thigmotropism: Plant senses touch

Phytochromes: Plant protein that senses day and night

Diabetes is a problem with the sythesis or use of insulin. This prevents breaking down sugars


What are nutrients?

Organisms need molecules to continue existing. Some are used to build their special little protiens and others are broken a part so they can use the released energy. We call all of these molecules nutrients.

Macronutrients are molecules they need "a lot of" and micronutrients are ones they only need "a little of."

Nutrient types:

Nutrient Deficency: Weird bad things (like dying) happen when organisms are deficient of nutrients.


9 Plant macronutrients:

8 Plant micronutrients:

Good luck memorizing!

How do plants get these nutrients:

So I don't know if you knew this but plants have something called roots and leaves.

Leaves suck up the gases O2 and CO2.

Root hairs absorb water and other minerals through diffusion. The minerals are charged though so the roots release CO2 which leads to H+ being produced. This neutralizes the minerals and makes them "more available"

Nitrogen in the soil comes from nitrogenfixing bacteria which produce NH3. NH3 becomes NH4+ after reacting with water. This can then be absorbed by the roots. This process forms a mutualistic symbiotic relationship where the plants give the bacteria carbohydrates and the bacteria give the plant nitrogen.


Here are the TOP 4 ways animals ingest food!


Agents of disease

Types of transmission


What is biotechnology

Using organisms for our own purposes. The textbook considers letting bacteria ferment milk or using yeast to make bread rise as a biotechnology. That definition is super odd though. Is riding a horse a biotechnology? I dunno.

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR):

A way to multiply DNA segments. DNA is heated till the two strands break apart ( denaturation) - dna polymerase fills in complementary strands - repeat. A machine called a thermocycler changes the heat to facilitate the reactions.

Genetically Modified Organism (GMO):

We alter the genomes of these organisms to our liking! We can now DECIDE what proteins are synthesized! WE ARE GODS TOYING WITH THE VERY BASIS OF LIFE!!!

GMOs are cool cause it can make plants more resistant to pests like Bt corn or make plants more nutritious like golden rice. We can also do fucked up things like make fruit flies be born without eyes... or even more fucked up things like make fruit flies be born with the bodies coated in eyes.

Plants can be genetically engineered through many methods. One is lateral transfer where genetic material stored in a plasmids is passed into cells (bacteria does this naturally). Incorporating DNA from other organisms is called transformation. Other ways include biolistics which is just using a gun to shoot the dna into the plant???, and then theres using protoplasts which are cells without cell walls. Because the wall isn't there you can get DNA inside I guess...

And thats it I think? Well probably not actually. Don't blame me if you are tested on stuff that I never wrote about! I do hope you found this useful though. Share it with other people in your class if you want!