Physiology and Neuroscience

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Physiology encompasses all aspects of animal and human functioning from molecules to behaviour. In Helsinki, the major of Physiology offers three different fields of physiology for student to specialise in in their masters degree studies: Neurobiology, Developmental Biology, and General and Ecological Physiology.

Biology is in a stage of development comparable to the revolution in physics in the early 1900's. The explosive growth in the sheer mass of facts creates a pressing need for research that integrates and structures the information into functional wholes. This is the mission of physiology (“integrative biology” is an expression often used as a synonym). Physiology is a branch of biology investigating how the countless processes and networks at the molecular and cellular levels and all the higher levels of organization serve the organism's development, vital functions and interaction with the environment. It seems appropriate that one of the three Nobel Prizes in science should be for “physiology or medicine” (besides those for physics and chemistry).

The physiologist utilises the full wealth of living forms produced by evolution when choosing model organisms for experimental work. In addition, transgenic organisms, the central research models of modern biology, offer powerful tools in all subfields of physiology. Functional genomics and other “omics” are just some of the approaches used by the physiologist for unravelling e.g. the dynamics of cell and tissue differentiation or the mechanisms of the working brain.

Understanding the development and function of the brain is one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time. Neurobiology is at the core of brain research, spanning from behavioural sciences to cell and molecular biology and from basic research to medicine.

More about neurobiological research at the department you can read under the research section of these pages. There is also a graduate school and an international master´s degree programme in neuroscience in which the neurobiology research groups of our department are participating.

Developmental biology investigates the mechanisms whereby the life cycle of the organism unfolds, generation after generation, under the constraints set by heredity and evolution and under the influence of the environment. How is the genome “played upon” in strict spatio-temporal patterns, by signalling within cells and between cells, to produce ordered growth, proliferation, differentiation and morphogenesis?

Physiology students receive their research training in developmental biology mainly within two research programs organizationally separate from the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences:

In ecological physiology, the important questions are how different animal species and populations have adapted to the environment, which factors set the limits to adaptability, and to what extent particular evolutionary solutions are “universal” or, alternatively, might be completely different. Comparison between species is one of the central approaches in ecophysiology, and the comparative approach will also serve to deepen our understanding of human physiology and its evolutionary background.

Physiological research is both theoretically and empirically extremely versatile. For example, the experimental part of a Master's thesis in physiology may comprise electrophysiology, functional imaging, pharmacology, histology, biochemistry and molecular biology, as well as psychophysical and behavioural experiments.

The training of students specialising in physiology is suitable for a wide variety of professional tasks besides academic research and teaching. Physiologists find jobs at governmental agencies and research institutes, in clinical research and counselling, in R&D in drug or food industry, drug registration and marketing, animal food production, or in environmental management.