Cell biophysics

A.Y. 2021/2022
Overall hours
BIO/04 BIO/09
Learning objectives
This course introduces selected subjects in the broad area of cell biology that can be studied applying physical principles and techniques. Emphasis will be given on how the integrated activity of biomolecules fulfill a cellular task, such as cell motility, self-sustained oscillators and signaling cascades propagating and amplifying a signal in time and space. The aim is to show what quantitative tools can achieve beyond the mere collecting and archiving of facts. The final goal is to translate simple cellular systems into mathematical equation for modeling. By devising models, non-obvious quantitative predictions are derived which can be experimentally tested and may lead to connect different and apparently unrelated phenomena. The course consists of lectures, experimental lab work and solution of practical problems meant to facilitate a quantitative understanding of cellular functions.
Expected learning outcomes
At the end of this course the students will understand the physical principles of basic cellular functions and how data from high-resolution techniques provide information on dynamic cellular systems. Students will be able to perform basic calculations of the strengths of physical interactions within cells and understand complex experimental setups in modern biophysics. During the course students will read and critique original papers and will be trained to present them in front of the class in order to learn how to correctly interpret and communicate results.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
First semester
More specific information on the delivery modes of training activities for academic year 2021/22 will be provided over the coming months, based on the evolution of the public health situation
Course syllabus
Module Mazzanti: Cell electrical excitability will be discussed in terms of membrane protein dynamics belonging to different type of ionic conductance. The mechanism of action potential generation will be instrumental to underlying the functional differences of neuronal, cardiac or skeletal muscle excitability.
Module Moroni: Moreover, because cell-to-cell communication is directly related to the modality of excitation, cell network analysis, signal spreading and message interpretation will all be presented and discussed in details. Cell motility, described in terms of mechanical interaction of contractile protein, will be another example of protein population dynamics and cooperativity. Finally, biological membrane fusion and dynamics, perception and processing of physical stimuli, are among the issues of the course that will be analyzed from the cellular to the atomic level.
Prerequisites for admission
Basic knowledge of cell and molecular biology, biochemistry, general physiology.
Teaching methods
Lectures and practice in dedicated teaching lab (Physiology lab 14 @ dept. of Biosciences)
Teaching Resources
Molecular Biology of the Cell (Alberts et al. 4th edition)
Physical Biology of the Cell, (Philips et al, Second edition)
Assessment methods and Criteria
Learning assessment will be through a written exam that will last two hours. Students attending the course can opt for a mid-term examination plus a second partial exam at the end of the course.

The text of the exam includes open questions (40%), charts and graphs to complete (10%) and multiple choices tests (50%). These proportions broadly reflect their contribution to the composition of the final score. Multiple choice tests are aimed to broadly verify the understanding of concepts and definitions taught during the course whereas open questions/charts are designed to evaluate problem solving skills.
Note that unanswered questions will be counted as wrong answers. Examples of multiple-choice questions and their evaluation will be provided during the course.
BIO/04 - PLANT PHYSIOLOGY - University credits: 0
BIO/09 - PHYSIOLOGY - University credits: 0
Practicals: 32 hours
Lessons: 32 hours
Monday, 10.30-12.30
6th floor, B tower, Biological Buildings, via Celoria 26