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Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy

This is an archived copy of the 2012-13 catalog. To access the most recent version of the catalog, please visit


  • Robert K. Ho


  • Michael I. Coates
  • Martin Feder
  • Edwin L. Ferguson, Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology
  • Robert K. Ho
  • David Jablonski, Geophysical Sciences
  • Michael LaBarbera
  • Raphael Lee, Surgery
  • Zhe-Xi Luo
  • Daniel Margoliash
  • Victoria E. Prince
  • Callum Ross
  • Paul Sereno
  • Neil H. Shubin

Associate Professors

  • Melina E. Hale
  • Nicholas G. Hatsopoulos
  • Clifton Ragsdale, Neurobiology
  • Ilya Ruvinsky, Ecology and Evolution
  • Urs C. Schmidt-Ott

Assistant Professors

  • Sliman Bensmaia
  • Stephanie Palmer


  • James O'Reilly
  • Mark Westneat, Field Museum of Natural History

Emeritus Faculty

  • James A. Hopson
  • R. Eric Lombard

The graduate program in Integrative Biology is housed in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy (OBA), which has a long history of training students in integrative organismal biology. During the 1970s, the focus of the (then) Department of Anatomy shifted from the classic purview of anatomy departments in the middle of the 20th century — histology, neurobiology, and cell biology — to more comparative and functionally oriented topics and an explicit focus on vertebrate evolutionary biology and functional morphology. The neurobiology section of the department expanded first into explicitly comparative areas and later into neuroethology. Over the next twenty years the department evolved into its present configuration with research and teaching foci which include biomechanics/functional morphology, organismal neurobiology, evolutionary developmental biology, and vertebrate evolutionary biology, all unified by a shared reference point in the biological hierarchy — the organism — an entity we see as the natural reference for all of the biological sciences since it is the natural unit of selection. We see the intellectual areas presently housed in OBA as inextricably and naturally connected. To understand the organismal level in biology requires an understanding of both how organisms have been shaped over evolutionary time scales and how they are generated on developmental time scales, the various interacting tissue and organ systems that generate organismal functions, and the mutual feedback among these functional, evolutionary, and developmental processes. The high degree of connectivity among our core disciplines is exemplified by the integrative nature of student dissertation projects in OBA and by the high level of interaction and collaboration among our faculty; both faculty and graduate student research in OBA frequently span several of these areas. In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in and appreciation for organismal-level biology on the national level, putting molecular, genetic, and computational tools and information to use to understand broader systems-level questions. OBA and its Integrative Biology program has been actively positioning itself as a leader in research and graduate training in this endeavor.

Research and training in the graduate program focus on the integration of four overlapping areas:

  1. Biomechanics: the application of methods from engineering and physics to understanding the design of organisms.
  2. Developmental Biology: understanding how information coded into the genome is translated into the patterns seen in organisms.  Our developmental biology program has a special emphasis on the interface between evolution and development, an area sometimes called “EvoDevo”.
  3. Neurobiology: understanding how the nervous system regulates and controls the behavior of animals.  Our neurobiology program has a special emphasis on the relationship of the nervous system to behavior (or neuroethology) and the application of quantitative methods to understanding neural function (computational neuroscience).
  4. Paleontology: documenting and understanding evolutionary patterns and processes through analyses of the fossil record.

Training in the department places an emphasis on familiarity with a broad range of ideas and skills in organismal biology. Although students can conduct research in any of the areas represented in the department, they are encouraged to develop research programs that capitalize on the talents of two or more faculty members with different perspectives. The department also encourages students to interact with other units on campus (such as the Department of Ecology and Evolution and the Committees on Development, Regeneration and Stem Cell Biology; Evolutionary Biology; Genetics, Genomics and Systems Biology; and Neurobiology) as well as the Field Museum of Natural History, the Brookfield and Lincoln Park zoos and the Shedd Aquarium. Students earning doctorates through the department will be qualified, following suitable postdoctoral training, for research and teaching careers in biology departments, anatomy departments and museums.


Master of Science

Students are not admitted to the program for the sole purpose of obtaining a Master of Science degree, but this degree is awarded to students from other academic units who require a Master of Science degree as one requirement for the doctorate.

Doctor of Philosophy

The requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy are as follows:

  • Course requirements are individualized and are defined for students early in their stay in the program, based on the student's background and interests. Students will complete a course distribution requirement by the end of their second year. Students must fulfill the divisional requirement of serving as a teaching assistant in two courses and completing ethics training.
  • The preliminary examination, consisting of a written segment which covers a range of topics in organismal biology, as well as both the oral and written presentation of a directed research project or dissertation research proposal.
  • The completion of a research project and the presentation of a dissertation satisfactory to the department faculty.
  • The passing of a final oral examination.


We strongly advise students considering application to the department to begin preparation of their application early in the autumn quarter, so that all materials will arrive by the December 1, deadline. The department requires GRE General Test scores from all applicants, and strongly recommends submission of GRE subject test scores in biology. Foreign applicants whose first language is not English also must submit TOEFL test scores with their application materials. Further information also may be obtained from the department’s home page at .


Didactic and seminar courses are offered in each of the departmental research foci. The specific courses presented vary from year to year. A list of current courses can be obtained by contacting the Graduate Program Administrator. Students are encouraged to take courses related to their interests in other academic units on campus.

Organismal Biology & Anatomy Courses

ORGB 30001. The Human Body. 125 Units.

The Human Body course is the first component of the Scientific Foundations of Medicine curriculum in Year 1. The Human Body course will provide you with a foundation in the structural organization of the body.  You will learn gross anatomy of the back, thorax, abdomen, pelvis, head and neck, and upper and lower limbs through large and small group teaching sessions, as well as cadaver dissection. Correlations with Radiology and Surgery are an integral part of the course and provide real world clinical context for the anatomic material.

Instructor(s): C. Ross     Terms Offered: Summer
Note(s): For Pritzker students only, unless by instructor consent

ORGB 31300. Key Issues in Early Vertebrate Evolution. 100 Units.

The course addresses questions about the origin of vertebrates, the interrelationships of major gnathostome clades, and the fish-tetrapod transition.

Instructor(s): M. I. Coates     Terms Offered: Winter
Prerequisite(s): Undergraduate level chordate biology required; familiarity with methods in systematic biology advantageous.
Equivalent Course(s): EVOL 30300

ORGB 31900. IGERT Bootcamp: Motor Control/Movement. 100 Units.

Outreach training with Project Exploration and specialized research opportunities in IGERT laboratories

Instructor(s): M. Hale     Terms Offered: Autumn
Note(s): Required for IGERT trainees. Others may register with consent of instructor.

ORGB 32000. Development & Evolution of Neuromechanical Systems. 100 Units.

 We investigate neuromechanical systems from developmental and evolutionary perspectives, synthesizing recent research in the field.

Instructor(s): M. Hale, C. Ross     Terms Offered: Spring
Note(s): This course is required of all IGERT trainees.

ORGB 32100. IGERT: Research with the Encyclopedia of Life. 100 Units.

Instructor(s): M. Westneat     Terms Offered: Spring
Note(s): This course is required of all IGERT trainees.

ORGB 32500. Survey of systems neuroscience. 100 Units.

This lab-centered course teaches students the fundamental principles of vertebrate nervous system organization. Students learn the major structures and the basic circuitry of the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nervous system. Somatic, visual, auditory, vestibular and olfactory sensory systems are presented in particular depth. A highlight of this course is that students become practiced at recognizing the nuclear organization and cellular architecture of many regions of brain in rodents, cats and primates.

Instructor(s): C. Hansel, N. Hatsopoulos, staff     Terms Offered: Autumn
Prerequisite(s): undergraduates with consent of instructor
Equivalent Course(s): NURB 31600

ORGB 33750. Chordates: Evolution and Comparative Anatomy. 100 Units.

Chordate biology emphasizes the diversity and evolution of modern vertebrate life, drawing on a range of sources (from comparative anatomy and embryology to paleontology, biomechanics, and developmental genetics). Much of the work is lab-based, with ample opportunity to gain firsthand experience of the repeated themes of vertebrate body plans, as well as some of the extraordinary specializations manifest in living forms. The instructors, who are both actively engaged in vertebrate-centered research, take this course beyond the boundaries of standard textbook content.

Instructor(s): M. Coates     Terms Offered: Spring
Prerequisite(s): Biological Sciences Fundamentals sequence. Recommended for AP5 students.
Equivalent Course(s): BIOS 22250,EVOL 30250

ORGB 34200. Biological Fluid Mechanics. 100 Units.

Prior physics course required; prior chemistry and calculus courses recommended. This course introduces fluid mechanics and the interactions between biology and the physics of fluid flow (both air and water). Topics range from the fluid mechanics of blood flow to the physics (and biology) of flight in birds and insects.

Instructor(s): M. LaBarbera. L.     Terms Offered: Winter
Prerequisite(s): Completion of the general education requirement for the biological sciences
Equivalent Course(s): BIOS 22242,EVOL 34200

ORGB 34300. Biomechanics of Organisms. 100 Units.

Prior chemistry, physics, and calculus courses recommended. This course examines how organisms cope with their physical environment, covering the properties of biological materials, mechanical analysis of morphology, and principles of design optimization. We emphasize support systems of organisms but also examine aspects of cardiovascular design. Mechanical properties of biomaterials are analyzed in relation to their underlying biochemical organization and biophysical properties, with mathematical treatment at an introductory level. The lab research project is optional.

Instructor(s): M. LaBarbera. L.     Terms Offered: Winter 2013
Prerequisite(s): Completion of the general education requirement in the biological sciences
Equivalent Course(s): BIOS 22243,EVOL 34300

ORGB 34650. Computational Approaches for Cogintive Neuroscience. 100 Units.

This course is concerned with the relationship of the nervous system to higher order behaviors such as perception and encoding, action, attention and learning and memory. Modern methods of imaging neural activity are introduced, and information theoretic methods for studying neural coding in individual neurons and populations of neurons are discussed.

Instructor(s): N. Hatsopoulos     Terms Offered: Spring
Prerequisite(s): BIOS 24222 or CPNS 33100
Equivalent Course(s): PSYC 34410,CPNS 33200

ORGB 34800. Evolutionary Biomechanics of Vertebrate Feeding Systems. 100 Units.

This proseminar examines the evolutionary and functional principles underlying the diversity of vertebrate musculoskeletal systems as revealed by research on vertebrate feeding systems. Mechanical, neuromechanical, modeling and experimental approaches to the biomechanics of vertebrate feeding systems are examined. Weekly labs cover practical skills surrounding collection and analysis of in vivo data. Students are required to participate in class discussions and prepare a written and oral proposal of a research project on a vertebrate feeding system. It is expected that the students will then perform that research in the Summer Quarter.

Instructor(s): C. Ross
Prerequisite(s): Vertebrate diversity and phylogenetic relationships; algebra, some linear algebra and calculus helpful.

ORGB 40000. Approaches to Teaching in the Biological Sciences,Introduction to Integrative Organismal Biology. 100 Units.

This course will introduce different teaching philosophies and methods that address how to be an effective teacher in the biological sciences. Specifically, the course will address what skills and knowledge undergraduates need to acquire and which assignments best teach these skills. Students will prepare course syllabi, discuss different approaches to teaching, and draft a philosophy of teaching statement. The overall goal for the course is that the students think critically about the art of teaching and formulate their own thoughts on the matter to better prepare them for their own careers in teaching. ,A graduate seminar to introduce students to research of faculty in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy.

Instructor(s): Staff,M. Hale     Terms Offered: ,Autumn
Note(s): ,Required for first and second year graduate students in Integrative Biology.

ORGB 40001. Topics: Integrative Organismal Biology. 100 Units.

Instructor(s): M. LaBarbera     Terms Offered: Winter
Note(s): Required for first and second year graduate students in Integrative Biology.

ORGB 40100. Grants, Publications and Professional Issues. 100 Units.

Covers professional topics in evolutionary biology, primarily strategies in grant writing and review. Each student will work towards the submission of an application of their choice. The course meets weekly and involves extensive writing and discussion.

Instructor(s): Bergelson, Ho, Coates     Terms Offered: Autumn
Note(s): Only open to first year graduate students in the Darwinian Sciences Cluster
Equivalent Course(s): EVOL 40100,ECEV 40100

ORGB 57500. Cell Growth, Injury, Repair and Death. 100 Units.

This course reviews the various modes of cell injury that can occur, the basic molecular healing responses, and pathways of metabolic survival or death. This course may be of interest to those interested in wound healing, biological stress responses, molecular chaperones, radiobiology, biomechanics, biomedical engineering, as well as trauma and critical care medicine.

Instructor(s): R. Lee     Terms Offered: Autumn
Equivalent Course(s): MOLM 57500,MPMM 57500