Physiological Systems and Regulation

Level 5 Coursework assessment for:                                                                                                         

BIOC0578 (Physiological Systems and Regulation)


This is a ‘scenario problem’. Read the information and answer the questions. Your answers must be concise, focus on the question (an introduction isn’t needed), and include a short explanation. ANSWERS OF ESSAY LENGTH ARE NOT REQUIRED. A specimen question (question 2) and answer has been included below, so that you can see the type of response that is needed. You will need to include some explanation as part of your answer. References should be included.

Please note that these questions are not equally weighted, and it is likely that answers to some will be a bit longer than others. Because of this, your mark will be based on your overall response to all of the questions. This doesn’t mean you can ignore a question – you must attempt all the questions.

Consider the following scenario:

A swamp in a tropical island. Hungry crocodiles swimming around in the swamp, and poisonous snakes in the mangrove trees. And it’s very hot and humid. In the middle of the swamp, there’s a wreck of an old villa, with a group of insurgents inside (definitely not nice people), meeting to decide how they’ll make a fortune from crime and corruption after overthrowing the people’s benevolent government…

A secret agent has the job of spying on the insurgents. Back in Whitehall (or pick your agency) someone’s decided that all agents should have body function monitors fitted, so that their reactions can be recorded at headquarters. They want to know if the agents are up to specification – are they meeting their targets? Should agents be privatised?

You are a scientist who has been given the job of analyzing the data. So answer the following questions…

  1. The agent was crouched up to their neck in water, watching the villa. Their body function monitor showed that their heart rate, stroke volume, cardiac output and respiration rate were increased above normal. And when they saw the insurgents coming out of the villa, these parameters increased even more. Why? Explain your answer.
  • The agent suspected they might have been seen. They decided to swim quietly away, and to climb one of the mangrove trees to try to avoid being captured. What changes would the monitor show just before, and while they were swimming away? And would there be any changes when they climbed up the tree? Why?

Specimen answer: this is to give you some idea of the type of response we expect.

“If worried about being seen, more adrenaline would be secreted, so increases in overall CO, heart rate, stroke volume, general vascular tone – vasoconstriction, shunting of blood from gut and kidney to skeletal muscle etc would occur. Breathing rate would also rise. Once swimming, the increased exertion would cause a rise in CO and respiration, to meet the increased O2 demand from skeletal muscle. And the swimming would also attract the interest of crocodiles, so that too would increase their anxiety and cause more adrenaline secretion. Nor would they be safe in the tree, since it’s full of poisonous snakes, and the anxiety of being bitten would also raise adrenaline, with all the usual effects of that hormone. We’re talking high adrenaline secretion rates here”.

  • The insurgents started moving towards the agent’s tree. Carefully, the agent climbed down the tree and submerged in the swamp water to hide. In their secret agent’s kit they had a 2 meter snorkel tube, 1cm in diameter, which they used to breathe while under water.
  1. What was the volume of the tube? (this is just a straightforward calculation).
    1. How would the tube affect the agent’s breathing? Explain your answer.
  • The insurgents did not find the agent, and went back to their villa. The agent surfaced and rested, holding on to a nearby tree. Over the next 15 minutes, their heart rate, cardiac output and breathing rate underwent several changes. What are these changes likely to be? Why would the changes occur? Explain your answer.
  • Once rested, the agent approached the villa again. The agent saw a capsized canoe just below the villa’s window. Thinking they might be able to overhear better from that position, they swam underwater, surfacing in the air pocket, using the trapped air to breathe. The volume of the air pocket was 10 Litres.
  1. What would the volume of oxygen be in the air pocket? (you can assume the air is fresh and the swamp is at sea level).
  • If the agent was using 200ml O2 / minute, how long could they stay beneath the canoe?
  • What would the changes in O2 and CO2 be in the air pocket?
  • What effect would the changes in these gases have on their respiration?

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