Curriculum Element: Incorporating Systems Biology into the Introductory Biology Curriculum

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Author: Dr. James Smith, Biology Department, Montgomery College (

Implementation Levels: Introductory biology courses. Examples: Principles of Biology I (BIOL 150) at Montgomery College; Principles of Biology (BSCI 105) at the University of Maryland.

Short Description: Activity to highlight the correlation between structure and function in enzymes and other macromolecules. Metabolic pathways are used as one of the tools to understand the unity and diversity in enzymes and metabolites across diverse groups of organisms.


Students in introductory biology courses often fail to comprehend the unity and diversity in metabolic processes across diverse prokaryotic and eukaryotic species. They struggle to understand the chemical principles that regulate metabolic processes in energy production and utilization. This curriculum element uses a group project to help students discover how the structures of macromolecules/metabolites share common properties and at the same time retain uniqueness across diverse group of organisms. Each student group is assigned a species and asked to compare the glycolytic pathways of the assigned species with that of humans using the website. This collaborative exercise trains them to critically analyze and synthesize the information on metabolic processes. Additionally, this activity also provided an opportunity to compare the evolutionary relationships among the organisms, based on the similarities and diversity in the metabolic pathways and in utilization of different enzymes and other macromolecules. It also provides them with an opportunity to learn teamwork and presentation skills. It replaced a traditional lecture and problem set. Student responses on the evaluation of the curriculum element indicated an increase in the ability to find and use scientific information on-line and a slight increase in interest in science and technology. The students also seemed to have a greater understanding of molecular structure and its relationship to function and the evolution of enzymes than students who were exposed to the material using a traditional lecture.