Posted by: jerryhusak | May 21, 2015

What can you learn about REAL biology by studying monsters?


A sample of monsters covered: Godzilla, dragons, chimeras, werewolves, vampires, zombies, aliens, the Wendigo

You’ve seen them in movies and TV shows. You’ve woken up in a cold sweat after dreaming about them. Maybe you’ve avoided them as much as possible. Monsters are a pervasive part of our modern culture, and they have been for most of recorded human history. You may love them, hate them, or fear them, but can monsters tell us anything about actual biology? I posed this question to students in Biology of Monsters (BIOL 398) at the end of this semester after we spent 15 weeks delving into what makes monsters tick, or not, and here are some excerpts of what they had to say:

By observing monster characteristics and trying to determine how and why they can or can’t exist, you actually learn about real biology. In order to disprove, you must first understand. Monsters serve as an exciting and engaging model to teach organismal, developmental, and evolutionary biology. Disproving or trying to prove existence also promotes creativity and helps us see biological connections that may have gone unnoticed and unexplored.

We are able to learn many comparative aspects of anatomy, physiology, psychology, genetics, developmental biology, evolutionary biology, and immunology. By understanding how these mechanisms work in hypothetical models, we can understand our own biology and the world around us.

By looking at what cannot exist, you are able to view the limitations on real biology and the ways that actual biology is constrained.

By studying monsters we can learn a lot about real biology, such as physical constraints in form and function of an organism in order to understand how that organism is alive. It helps us understand trade-offs and developmental issues for organisms, and how to apply that information to real-life organisms.

Actually, a lot of biological ideas can be applied to monsters. By looking at realistic properties of monsters we can study real biology. But also, by studying what is unrealistic about monsters, we can understand the real biology that constrains extant organisms.

You can absolutely learn so much by studying monsters. This class has challenged me both intellectually and creatively to come up with reasons why monsters can’t exist. You have to think about concepts such as psychology, scaling limitations, organ functions, transmission, niche specialization, and so many more. The class is an awesome way to learn how to apply biological concepts in a creative and extremely interesting and engaging way.

By learning about the limits of “real biology” and why these monsters can’t exist it gives us a better understanding of the world around us. This class encompasses many of the building blocks of developing life, and learning about them is important to understand existing life.

Monsters are basically creatures that already possess biological characteristics that are based off real-life animals, only their biology is enhanced, and so by looking at the constraints as to why monsters don’t exist we can see the limits of biology.

Don’t worry, this zombie couldn’t exist. If you want to know the many, many reasons why, just ask someone who took this course…


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