NBIK15019U Sensory Biology

Volume 2016/2017

MSc Programme in Biology


The course deals with animal senses and takes an integrative approach. It will illustrate the interconnections of the different levels from molecules to behavior in sensory biology. The sensory modalities taught are vision and other types of photoreception, olfaction, taste, hearing, equilibrium, mechanoreception, pressure reception, electroreception, magnetoreception and senses for temperature and heat radiation. All senses are typically studied comparatively across the animal kingdom and a range of methods in physiology, ethology and human psychophysics are taught and used during the course. The topics (e.g. the individual senses) of the course are covered at different levels of organization:

  1. Molecular machinery of sensory receptors.
  2. Physiology of sensory receptors.
  3. Anatomy and function of sensory organs.
  4. Neuroanatomy, neural processing and integration of sensory information.
  5. Role of sensory information in behaviour and in the adaptation of animals to their environment (sensory ecology).

The course includes four practicals where the students in groups will conduct experiments with a number of the different senses: 1) vision in humans, 2) mechanoreception in arthropods, 3) electroreception in teleost fidh, and 4) molecular biology of insect olfaction. This will give them hands on experience with some of the standard methods used in experimental sensory and neuro biology and allow then to draw conclusions of functionality based on their own data. Each practical will include writing up a small report.

Learning Outcome


The students will obtain a broad knowledge of animal senses. This will include knowledge on the morphology of the sensory organs, the molecular biology and physiology of the receptor cells, how the sensory organs code the acquired information, and how the information is used to control animal behavior. They will also gain knowledge on experiment design within experimental neurobiology including knowledge on technical details of important stimulation and measuring equipment. 


After having participated in the course the student can:

  • interpret the connection between animal behavior/communication and the underlying sensory biology
  • determine the modality of a sensory organ based on its structure
  • evaluate and compare the quality of the sensory input across sensory modalities and animal groups
  • design and set up experiments (including electrophysiology) on the quality and functionality of the sensory input from a range of sensory organs.


The student will obtain a broad and detailed knowledge of the diversity of sensory organs in the animal kingdom from jellyfish to humans. The course will illustrate the important connections between receptor molecules, sensory cells, sensory organs, and animal behavior. By addressing all these different levels it will provide the student with the latest integrative knowledge on sensory biology. The course provides an ideal background for continued detailed studies of sensory ecology, sensory physiology, animal behavior, and neurobiology in general. Further, it forms a broad basis for professional work in zoology, physiology, ecology and medical science.

Chapters from Encyclopeadia of Animal Behaviour as PDFs and other handouts.

Open for students with a bachelor degree in biology and others with a comparable background in neurobiology and zoology.
Lectures, tutorials, colloquia and practical exercises.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Colloquia
  • 14
  • Exam
  • 0,33
  • Lectures
  • 26
  • Practical exercises
  • 50
  • Preparation
  • 101,67
  • Seminar
  • 14
  • Total
  • 206,00
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 20 minutes, no preparation time
Oral exam bases on the lectures as well as the material handed out to the lectures.
No preparation time.
Exam registration requirements

4 approved reports.

Without aids
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Several internal examiners.

As ordinary exam.

If the requirement is not fulfilled, all 4 reports must be approved no later than two weeks before the reexamination.

Criteria for exam assesment

In order to achieve the grade 12 the student must be able to demonstrate an excellent fulfillment of the learning outcome described above.