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Subject Summary: Part IA Biology of Cells

The course aims to provide an introduction to biology at the molecular and cellular level, and considers what cells are, what they look like, and how they work. The Biology of Cells course is complete in its own right, but it also provides a useful introduction to further studies in biology, biochemistry and genetics, for both biologists and non-biologists. The course is organised jointly by the Departments of Biochemistry, Plant Sciences, Genetics, and Zoology.

In the first term, the lectures deal with the basic structure of cells and macromolecules, with the structure and function of cell membranes, and with the essential biochemistry of cell metabolism. The second term's lectures are concerned with genetics (including the organisation and inheritance of genetic information), genetic engineering, nucleic acid and protein synthesis, and with cell growth and multiplication. Lectures in the third term consider animal and plant development, and cell communication.

The practical side of the course is organised so that, so far as possible, the experiments are related to the subject matter of the concurrent lecture course.

 A level Chemistry is highly desirable but not essential: some knowledge of Chemistry beyond GCSE is assumed. Past experience shows that the course appeals to students who have no AS or A2-level Biology as well as to those who have. Those without A-2 level Biology are often attracted by the increasing ability to understand biological events in molecular terms. At the beginning of the course non-biologists may sometimes find it difficult to keep up with new jargon and concepts, but students can readily overcome this by doing preliminary reading before coming up, using the titles suggested by their College and on the NST website. Generally well before the end of the year, non-biologists have caught up with biologists. Although students who have A2-level Biology will find that some of the material presented is apparently familiar to them, the depth of treatment and the differences in viewpoint distinguish this course significantly from A2-level Biology.

Programme Specification:

This course is taught jointly by the Departments of Biochemistry, Genetics, Plant Sciences and Zoology.

(The Biology of Cells and Computer Science options cannot be combined.)


  1. to introduce the basic concepts of cell biology, including cell structure, macromolecules, biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, development and cell communication;
  2. to illustrate the experimental approaches and technologies which have led to our understanding of cell biology;
  3. to provide laboratory classes and on-line exercises complementary to the lecture topics to enable students to experience directly the experimental nature of the subject;
  4. to provide sufficient background to enable students to continue with more specialised courses in Part IB, such as Cell and Developmental Biology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology or Plant and Microbial Sciences.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students should:

  1. have acquired an understanding of the major concepts in cell and molecular biology, and the experimental approaches taken to address them;
  2. be able to write clear and well-argued descriptions of these topics, based on the course material and textbook articles;
  3. be able to design, perform and analyse simple experiments in cell and molecular biology;
  4. be able to continue with Part IB courses which have substantial elements of cell and/or molecular biology.

Teaching and Learning Methods

These include lectures, supervisions, practical classes and web-based exercises.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • one unseen written examination, based on lecture material (for aims 1, 2 and 4 and learning outcomes 1, 2 and 4);
  • one unseen written examination, based on material from the practical classes (for aims 2-4 and learning outcomes 1, 3 and 4).

Courses of Preparation

Highly desirable:A Level Chemistry.

Recommended: Although A Level Biology is not a requirement, students who have not done Biology at A Level may wish to consult an A Level Biology text before they come up. An optional preliminary reading list is available on the NST website.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Website pages.