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Subject Summary

There will be six modules (each comprising a total of 24 hours of teaching, mostly in one-hour slots) which together cover cellular and ecological options. Within a given module there may be workshops in addition to the traditional one-hour lecture slots. It is expected that each student will attend two modules in each term.

First term modules
M1: Plant Signalling Networks in Growth and Development
M2: Microbes: Evolution, Genomes and Lifestyle
M3: Evolution and Ecosystem Dynamics

Second term modules
L1: Plant Genomes & Synthetic Biology
L2: Responses to Global Change
L3: Exploiting Plant Metabolism

The inter-departmental course in Ecology allows Conservation Science to be taken with other modules in Zoology or Genetics; students are also able to select to study Bioinformatics option from BBS.

In addition to lectures, students are required to undertake a practical-based research project amounting to the equivalent of two days per week over twelve weeks. Opportunities exist for students to design their own projects, and projects that combine different disciplines within the Plant Sciences are encouraged. The project should be completed in the first and second terms, and the project report submitted in the second term. In addition, students are required to complete a Critical Review essay of 2,500 words in the first term. 

The Plant Sciences Part II course reflects the growing need to understand more fully how plants work from the cellular to population and community levels. This scope enables you to experience experimental approaches ranging from molecular biology to ecology modelling. The modular nature of the course means that students can study for a Plant Sciences degree with almost any combination of physiological, ecological, or molecular components. 

There is a resurgence of interest in plants, whether in terms of their role in carbon sequestration, food production, or bio energy sources. For the next generation, plants will become the focus of key global issues: how to feed an additional 2-3 billion mouths, drive forward an economy currently trading on past sunlight, and maintain biodiversity in the face of climate change. Almost half of our Part II students trained in Plant Sciences over the last few years went on to do postgraduate research at Cambridge or elsewhere. The fact that a significant proportion of those went on to departments specialising in biochemistry or environmental sciences, as well as Research Institutes, emphasises the breadth and depth of the training we give. The remainder took a variety of posts in, for example, agriculture, school teaching, environmental assessment, management, publishing, law, and industry.

Programme Specification

This course is taught principally by the Department of Plant Sciences. Students may also attend inter-departmental modules run in conjunction with the Departments of Zoology and Genetics, as well as some options within the Part II Zoology course.


This course aims to:

  1. provide an up-to-date review of several aspects of plant sciences and microbiology, including specialised techniques and experimental approaches used in modern plant and microbial sciences research;
  2. enable students to acquire specialised knowledge of selected areas of plant sciences and microbiology;
  3. provide training in research skills through an independent research project in a laboratory or field-based context, lasting twelve weeks;
  4. provide training in both scientific and transferable skills, including written presentation, which will serve as a lasting and practical basis for a career in industry, pure or applied biology, teaching, publishing or management.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course, students should:

  1. be able to demonstrate advanced knowledge and understanding in several aspects of modern plant and microbial sciences research, and to analyse critically research literature;
  2. be able to design and execute a research-based experiment, and to interpret the data obtained;
  3. have acquired knowledge of how research is presented through having produced a written report on their research project.

Teaching and Learning Methods

These include lectures, supervisions, workshops, research work and seminars.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • four unseen written examinations (for aims 1-2 and learning outcome 1);
  • a written report of no more than 5000 words of the major objectives and findings of the research project (for aim 4 and learning outcomes 2 and 3);
  • a critical essay of no more than 2500 words on a topic unrelated to the research project (for aims 1, 2 and 4 and learning outcome 1).

Courses of Preparation

Recommended: Any Part IA or Part IB biological subject.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.