Vertebrate Anatomy
Professor Jason Downs

This course is co-sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, located at 33rd and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia. The entrance for the course is at the east end of the building, next to the garage. The class will meet in the Nevil classroom.


  1. Saturday, January 26, 2013 - Introduction

    Every vertebrate is shaped differently. This lecture will explore the question of what dictates body shape, from the effects of gravity to the effects of ancestry.

  2. Saturday, February 2, 2013 - Skeletal System

    This class will examine the vertebrate skeleton at multiple size scales - cellular, tissue, and organ - and break it down into the different components to clarify its origin, evolution, and current functions.

  3. Saturday, February 9, 2013 - Muscular System
    The vertebrate muscular system enables all vertebrate activity. This class will examine how muscles function at size scales from multiple-muscle systems all the way down to the filaments within muscle cells.

  4. Saturday, February 16, 2013 - Nervous System
    The vertebrate nervous system receives, processes, and delivers information in the form of electrical pulses and chemical signals. This class will explore the form and function of the vertebrate brain, spinal cord, and network of nerves.

  5. Saturday, February 23, 2013 - Sensory Organs

    The vertebrate body receives a variety of stimuli, from mechanical to chemical to radiation. This class will explore vertebrate systems of sensory reception, including why birds see more colors than humans, why motion sickness occurs, and why a single flavor can be delicious to one person and detestable to another.

  6. Saturday, March 2, 2013 - Cardiovascular System

    The vertebrate cardiovascular system transports blood throughout the body. This class will look at the vertebrate heart and blood vessel anatomy and explore why blood flow is so important for proper functioning of the body. Oxygen transport is only the start of the story.

  7. Saturday, March 9, 2013 - Respiratory System

    The vertebrate respiratory system is dedicated to gas exchange, externally with the environment and internally between blood and bodily tissues. This class will present the anatomy of vertebrate gills and lungs and the advantages and disadvantages of air breathing versus water breathing.

  8. Saturday, March 16, 2013 - Digestive System

    The vertebrate digestive system is dedicated to receiving nutrition from ingested food. The digestive tract is the only hole in the body that runs all the way through the vertebrate body. This class will break the passageway down into its various components to clarify the anatomy and functions.

This course will examine the vertebrate body and show how biological form reflects function, ontogeny (growth and development), and phylogeny (evolutionary relationships). Because all vertebrates are related to one another, we are able to talk about their anatomy in general terms and then apply these general concepts to specific examples. The class will focus on a handful of model organisms but the anatomy can be easily applied to any vertebrate.

Recommended reading:

The Shape of Life. By Rudolf A. Raff. University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body. By Neil Shubin. Pantheon Books, 2009.

Vertebrates: Comparative Anatomy, Function, Evolution. By Kenneth A. Kardong. McGraw-Hill, 2011. (This is a college-level textbook that is densely informative and therefore a very good reference volume for vertebrate anatomy. It is not meant to be consumed cover to cover.)

This course requires preregistration.

Preregistration begins on Monday, November 26, 2012.

You may register online here or call 215-763-6529 x23.



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