The term virus invokes visions of sickness, disease and death. But viruses are much more than harbingers of plaque they are an integral part of our environment present in the air we breathe, the food we eat and practically everything else. In addition, viruses influence species evolution, impact atmospheric conditions on a planetary scale, and shape the ecology of our surroundings. Furthermore, these remarkable biological nano-machines are currently being used to produce and deliver life saving drugs and can even be turned into batteries to power your favorite electronic device.

This seminar will explore viruses, their biology and their impact on society. Specific topics will include: 1, viral infectious diseases, their history, epidemiology and control (from the 1918 Spanish flu to the AIDS crisis); 2, viruses in our genomes and in our environment (viruses as agents of evolution, cancer and as beneficial symbionts); 3, the impact of viruses in the development of modern science and their use in nanotechnology (from scientific theory to DNA origami).

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to

• Understand the basic biology of viruses and their impact on society

• Understand the scientific process from hypothesis to theory

• Develop skills for reading, interpreting and critiquing scientific literature.

• Understand the role society plays in translating scientific information.

• Demonstrate proficiency in communicating science using appropriate oral and written means

Assignments include:

• Assignments will include a midterm exam consisting of essay questions; weekly reading and writing assignments covering current virus research topics; individual presentations and critiques of popular and scientific virus literature; and a case study in which students work in teams to address the science and societal response for a topic in the field of virology.

Readings include:

Dorothy Crawford,  The Invisible Enemy: A Natural History of Viruses

Michael Oldstone, Viruses, Plagues and History: Past, Present and Future

Carl Zimmer,  A Planet of Viruses