Conceptual Assessment of Physiology

Core Concepts in Physiology

The core concepts in physiology were present in a poster session at EB 2011 and was published in Advances in Physiology Education in Dec 2011, The Core Principles (Big Ideas) of Physiology: Results of Faculty Surveys, by two team members (Michael & McFarland, 2011). The fifteen core concepts below are listed in order of importance to the physiology faculty the responded to our surveys (there was a tie between numbers one and two).

Fifteen core principles

Proposed by approximately 70 physiology faculty respondents

  1. Homeostasis The internal environment of the organism is actively maintained constant by the function of cells, tissues, and organs organized in negative feedback systems.
  2. Cell membrane Plasma membranes are complex structures that determine what substances enter leave the cell. They are essential for cell signaling, transport, & other processes.
  3. Cell-cell communications The function of the organism requires that cells pass information to one another to coordinate their activities. These processes include endocrine and neural signaling.
  4. Interdependence Cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems interact with one another (are dependent on the function of one another) to sustain life.
  5. Flow down gradients The transport of "stuff" (ions, molecules, blood, air) is a central process at all levels of organization in the organism and this transport is described by a simple model.
  6. Energy The life of the organism requires the constant expenditure of energy. The acquisition, transformation & transportation of energy is a crucial function of the body.
  7. Structure/function The function of a cell, tissue or organ is determined by its form. Structure and function (from the molecular level to the organ system level) are intrinsically related to each other.
  8. Scientific reasoning Physiology is a science. Our understanding of the functions of the body arises from the application of the scientific method, thus our understanding is always tentative.
  9. Cell theory All cells making up the organism have the same DNA. Cells have many common functions, but also many specialized functions that are required by the organism.
  10. Physics/chemistry The functions of living organisms are explainable by the application of the laws of physics and chemistry.
  11. Genes to proteins The genes (DNA) of every organism code for the synthesis of proteins (including enzymes). The functions of every cell are determined by the genes that are expressed.
  12. Levels of organization Understanding physiological functions requires understanding the behavior at every level of organization from the molecular to the social.
  13. Mass balance The contents of any system or compartment in a system is determined by the inputs to and the outputs from that system or compartment.
  14. Causality Living organisms are causal mechanisms (machines) whose functions are explainable by a description of the cause-and-effect relationships that are present.
  15. Evolution The mechanisms of evolution act at many levels of organization and result in adaptive changes that have produced the extant relationships between structure and function.