Physiology of Organisms

Complementary Options

Biology of Cells
Evolution and Behaviour

In Short

Physiology of Organisms (PoO) is a course  of old science and big personalities: It’s one of the few courses where you’ll learn and remember the lecturer’s names. Matt Mason gives freshers a rude awakening with his relentless delivery of esoteric facts/annecdotes – this is picked up on by the team of eccentric plant lecturers. You’d do well to realise anything a lecturer ever says, whatever the context, can and will be examined.

You’ll learn a bit of cell biology: Membrane electrophysiology, hormone signalling etc. and apply it to heart, muscle and nerve function. You’ll also learn about Kidneys and Lungs. Plants take up about half the course – more than in any other 1a option. Whilst the final options on appetite & thermoregulation and mechanics can seem rushed and pointless , that’s probably just you in Easter term! You will either love or hate the way fish, kangaroos, insects etc. have to be learnt along with humans, and either love or hate ‘plants’. What everyone will hate is the artificial bizarre informative way exam essays force you to compare plant and animal systems.

PoO is the most intellectually challenging 1a course: Action potentials, Urine concentration and photosynthesis regulation are fiendish to understand, and controversial. Multiple Choice Questions in the exam are also written with triple negatives etc. and perversely do aim to trick anyone without clarity of understanding. However, topics are largely complementary and well illuminated with examples.

Lectures and handouts tend to be good quality, although eccentric: Mason refuses to put PowerPoints on CamTools, the other Mason still uses an OHP, and Griffis is practically incomprehensible. Dr. Thomas’ supervisions are a real treat – he’ll real off classic experiments with great enthusiasm and mention medical scenarios – in fact PoO is more ‘relevant’ to the world than many 1a options. Dr. Thomas is a busy man, so it’s best if one person takes it upon themselves to liaise with him over supervisions. The medics are a bit hit and miss (one particular hit left), and Carsten gets a mixed reaction (mainly based on whether you actually like plants).

Topics Covered

Membrane Potentials & Nerves
Muscle function
Cardiac function & Circulation in animals
‘Respiration’ in air and water
Renal function & Osmoregulation in animals
Sympathetic / Parasympathetic systems
C3, C4 & CAM Photosynthesis
Xylem/Phloem & Roots
Plant Hormones & Development
Bones and Wood – mechanics of Thermoregulation


These are the most ‘fun’ of 1A options: Dissections, heart / muscle preparations and experimenting on yourself. An easy to use computer system prepares reports for posterity and Matt Mason runs excellent de briefs. However, Matt Mason’s intensity tends to suck to joviality out of practicals and leaves you stressing over every missed control: Use this to take pity on Catz students (where he’s the DoS) rather than envying the extra hints they get… Plant practicals involve plants. The practical exam is a mix of MCQ’s and SAQ’s, and although it only takes about 20mins, is quite hard.