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Subject Summary

Cell biology and developmental biology are fields that are advancing rapidly. Part IB Cell and Developmental Biology aims to illustrate the excitement of those advances, building on the foundation provided in the first year by Part IA Biology of Cells to extend and consolidate coverage of cell biology. The course is taught by members of the Departments of Biochemistry, Plant Sciences, Genetics, and Zoology and it is designed to be taken in conjunction with any other subject in Part IB of the Natural Sciences Tripos except Materials Science, with which it shares slots in the lecture timetable. Since many students may wish to take Part IB Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in addition to Part IB Cell and Developmental Biology, the two courses are designed to be complementary, with minimal overlap. 

The first term considers how genetic information is organised and expressed within the nuclei of eukaryotic cells and in prokaryotic systems, together with systems biology approaches using yeast as a model organism. The second term starts with the biogenesis of chloroplasts and mitochondria, followed by consideration of the cytoskeleton and cell motility, membrane vesicle trafficking, and cell signalling. The remainder of the course then focuses on development in animals and plants, addressing questions such as: How do cells which contain similar genetic material diverge to make specialised products and to perform different functions within a multicellular organism; and how do populations of cells become organised into complex body patterns? 

Practical work involves experimental techniques that illustrate fundamental concepts and which are in current use in cell biology research.

Programme Specification

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


This course aims to:

  1. introduce some of the major ideas and current experimental approaches in cell and developmental biology;
  2. illustrate how molecular approaches complement classical cell biology in providing details of how cells carry out their basic processes;
  3. consolidate and extend students' knowledge of how cells work, how they interact and how they differentiate;
  4. illustrate the excitement of the rapid advances in cell and developmental biology;
  5. provide a framework for further specialised study of molecular, cellular and developmental biology in Part II courses in biological sciences.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students should:

  1. have developed knowledge of the major ideas in cell biology and developmental biology;
  2. have an understanding of the experimental approaches, and how they are applied to specific problems in cell and developmental biology;
  3. be able to carry out and interpret experiments in cell and developmental biology.

Teaching and Learning Methods

These include lectures, supervisions and practical work.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • one unseen written examination based on the content of the lecture courses (for aims 1-4 and learning outcomes 1 and 2);
  • one unseen examination, based on the content of the lecture courses and on practical work conducted throughout the year (for aims 1-4 and learning outcomes 2 to 3).

Courses of Preparation

Essential: NST Part IA Biology of Cells.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.