AGECO 121: Plant Stress: It's Not Easy Being Green (Fall 2017)

The many hazards faced by plants and the dynamic ways that plants respond to these problems are examined.


  • Plant Science


AGECO 121 Plant Stress: It's Not Easy Being Green is an introduction to plant biology with a strong emphasis on plant “stress” biology – how plants deal with the many hazards that they face, including diseases, insects, the weather, and animals. The course covers major aspects of plant biology and physiology, including photosynthesis, light perception, hormones, secondary metabolism, growth, development, and structure, and relates these topics to plant stress issues and to human needs and desires. The course also covers how plants obtain food and water, see their neighbors, communicate with each other, reproduce, compete with each other, consume insects, and even move around – all without muscles, eyes, or brains. Course activities include lectures, class discussions, in-class written assignments, guest lectures, laboratory activities, a field trip, and movies. This General Education (GN) course is designed to be accessible to non-science majors.

Course Logistics

Professor: Tim McNellis, Ph.D.
Class times: M W F | 11:15-12:05 p.m.
Location: lectures in 108 Henderson; labs in 103 Buckhout Lab or as noted on Course Schedule
No. of credits: 3
Required text: Biology of Plants, 8th ed., by R.F. Evert and S.E. Eichhorn, W.H. Freeman and Company, Publishers, New York, NY.

Instructor Contact Information:
Office: 318 Buckhout Lab
Office phone: (814) 863-7646
Office hours: Tuesdays 3:00-5:00 p.m. in 318 Buckhout Lab
Laboratory: 307 Buckhout Lab
Lab phone: (814) 865-8379

Course Objectives

During this course, you will be expected to:

  • Develop an understanding of basic plant biological processes;
  • Know and understand the major challenges faced by plants during their day-to-day struggle for survival;
  • Know and understand the strategies used by plants to deal with these challenges;
  • Be able to apply and synthesize concepts of plant biology and plant stress;
  • Relate plant "stress" biology to human needs and desires.

Course Grading

Your progress toward the course objectives will be measured by two midterm exams, lab activity participation, in-class worksheets, and a final exam. Exams include online objective questions and in-class essay/short answer questions. Course grades will be determined using a 100-point scale: A = 95-100; A- = 90-94; B+ = 87-89; B = 83-86; B- = 80-82; C+ = 70-79; C = 60-69; D = 50-59; F = below 50. The course grading scale may be changed, as necessary or appropriate, by the instructor.

The following items will be worth the indicated number of points:

Midterm Exam #1 16
Midterm Exam #2 16
Labs and Arboretum Tour * 32
In-class Worksheets 20
Final Exam 16

*Each of the 10 labs is worth 3 points, and attending the Arboretum tour is worth 2 points, for a total of 32 possible points.


You are strongly advised to attend lectures and labs. However, if you feel ill or are experiencing flu symptoms, you should not attend class. This helps to reduce spread of the flu. Contact the professor to make arrangements to make up missed material. If you have a scheduling conflict with an exam, let the professor know as soon as possible beforehand so that a make-up exam can be scheduled.


Clickers are strongly encouraged for this course, but not absolutely required. We will be doing some active learning activities with clickers, although not for points. You should bring your clicker to class every day.


On lab days, there will be no regular lecture. Instead, you will have the opportunity to sign up for a time slot on lab days. To accommodate everyone in the space available, you might need to sign up for a time slot other than regular class time, such as during a time when you have a break between your other classes. We will make every reasonable effort to accommodate everyone’s schedule so that everyone can participate in the labs.


Part 1. Seeing the Light
M 8/21 Course introduction
W 8/23 Why are plants green? chp 7 pp 122-129
F 8/25 Where does oxygen come from? chp 7 pp 129-135
M 8/28 Carbon-based life forms (incl'g biofuels) pp 18-30; pp 135-138; pp 457-460; fig 19-5; fig 29-13; p. 515 (inset)
W 8/30 Parasitic plants; leaf structure and photosynthesis chp 25 pp 590-599; 602-603 (sun & shade leaves)
F 9/1 Photosynthesis in the desert chp 7 pp 138-147
M 9/4 Labor Day Holiday - NO CLASS
W 9/6 Lab 1 - Spectrophotometry (103 Buckhout Lab)
F 9/8 Movie: Adaptations of the American Cacti
M 9/11 How do plants tell time? chp 28 pp 665-670
W 9/13 Lab 2 - Photosynthesis (103 Buckhout Lab)
F 9/15 Photoreceptors chp 28 pp 670-673
M 9/18 Review for Exam 1
W 9/20 Midterm Exam 1
Part 2. Controlled Substances
F 9/22 Tropisms and nastic movements chp 28 pp 660-665, 678-681; chp 11 p 215 (photo and caption)
M 9/25 Hormones: Auxin and Cytokinin chp 27 pp 638-647
W 9/27 Lab 3 - Plant movements (Tyson Greenhouse B, Room 14)
F 9/29 Hormones: Gibberellin, Abscisic Acid, and Ethylene chp 27 pp 647-652
M 10/2 Carnivorous plants (Movie: Death Trap) chp 11 p 209 (photo and caption; chp 29 p 694
W 10/4 Lab 4 - Auxin and apical dominance (103 Buckhout Lab)
F 10/6 Plant movements and reproduction (Movie: The Seedy Side of Plants)
M 10/9 Penn State Arboretum Tour (Meet at Overlook Pavillion)
W 10/11 Plant reproduction (continued) chp 19 pp 460-465; chp 20 pp 487-496
F 10/13 Water, plant nutrition, pollution and salt stress chp 29 pp 683-691; essay on p 703; pp 702-706; chp 30 pp 708-720
M 10/16 Alkaloids and terpenoids and phenolics, oh, my! chp 2 pp 30-35; chp 20 pp 497-498
W 10/18 Lab 5 - Plant nutrition (103 Buckhout Lab)
F 10/20 Review for Exam 2
M 10/23 Midterm Exam 2
Part 3. Friend or Foe?
W 10/25 Lab 6 - Bacterial wilt on geraniums and host specificity labs (103 Buckhout Lab)
F 10/27 Plant disease - general overview
M 10/30 Fire Blight - 200 years of frustration
W 11/1 Lab 7 - Tobacco hypersensitive reaction (103 Buckhout Lab)
F 11/3 Proof beyond a reasonable doubt
M 11/6 Guest lecture: Dr. Don Davis (Forest Tree Pathology)
W 11/8 Lab 8 - Soft rot of potato and environment effect labs (103 Buckhout Lab)
F 11/10 Agrobacterium tumefaciens and crown gall disease chp 10 pp 200-201
M 11/13 Guest lecture: Dr. Marilyn Roossinck (Plant Virology)
W 11/15 Lab 9 - Bacterial canker of tomatoes (103 Buckhout Lab)
F 11/17 Do you have a nitrogen fixation? chp 29 pp 692-700
M 11/20 Thanksgiving Day Holiday - NO CLASSES
W 11/22
F 11/24
M 11/27 Improving the green machine chp 21 pp 501-522
W 11/29 Lab 10 - Bacterial ice nucleation (103 Buckhout Lab)
F 12/01 What is organic agriculture? (Movie: In Organic We Trust) chp 21 pp 501-522
M 12/04 Transgenics chp 10 pp 192-205
W 12/06 Review for Exam 3
F 12/08 Plant stress knowledge game
Final Exam TBA; Exam Week: Dec. 11-15

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