Molecular and Cell Biology 90D, Section 2

Revolutions in Biology (1 unit, P/NP)

Professor Russell Vance
Thursday 3:00-4:00, 447 Weill Hall, Class number: 23221

In this seminar, we will discuss revolutions in biology, with a particular focus on two emerging revolutions that have origins at UC Berkeley: the cancer immunotherapy revolution and the genetic engineering revolution. We will begin with a discussion of Thomas Kuhn’s classic text, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and ask: what is a scientific revolution? and, how do they occur? We will then examine specific examples of revolutions in biology from the past and present, and discuss what biological revolutions might be on the horizon. Full disclosure: there is a fair amount of reading required for the class, especially in the first few weeks, though this tapers off considerably toward the end of the semester (so should be manageable). Students will be asked to write a short “reaction” paragraph each week in response to the readings, and active class participation is expected.

Instructor Bio

Professor Russell Vance hails originally from Canada, where he obtained his undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at Queen's University, followed by a Master's degree in Philosophy of Science. He then completed his PhD at UC Berkeley in immunology. His postdoctoral work was at Harvard Medical School where he began his current obsession studying bacterial infectious disease. His lab at Berkeley was established in 2006 and is interested in studying how the innate immune system protects against bacterial infections such as Legionnaires' Disease, Tuberculosis and Bacillary Dysentery. Prof. Vance has taught this Freshman Seminar since 2016 and he considers it to be the highlight of his Fall semester.

Faculty web site:


Although this seminar will discuss some science, no particular scientific knowledge is required, and the level of scientific discussion will be accessible to all. Much of the seminar will be dedicated not to science itself, but to the social and philosophical underpinnings of science. Participation from students with a wide range of interests is thus encouraged.