Clearing 2022

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BSc Plant Science

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Disease in Nature

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL21442
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by School of Biological Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Microbes, Man and the Environment BIOL10532 Pre-Requisite Recommended
Ecology & Ecosystems BIOL21211 Pre-Requisite Recommended


The aim of this unit is to introduce host-pathogen interactions and disease as general ecological phenomena that extend far beyond the clinical/ biomedical context and have considerable relevance for agriculture and conservation. Another central aim is to foster active, self-paced, independent learning in a blended unit that is delivered online, with optional face-to-face workshop sessions and ample online support. It is assessed entirely by coursework to promote the development of skills that are relevant for authentic professional work


Learning outcomes

Students will

  • Develop an understanding of disease in nature that integrates microbiological, physiological, genetic, ecological, evolutionary and economic perspectives.
  • Use this knowledge to explain outbreaks of disease in nature that are of significant concern to agriculture or conservation biology.
  • Build a basic knowledge of how the identity and mode of transmission of disease agents are elucidated.
  • Practise reasoning skills and critical thinking by writing a small research proposal for a disease with currently unknown agent and mode of transmission.
  • Hone their research and presentation skills: in assembling a lecture (slides + notes) on a high-profile pathogen of their choice and in recording a brief Science Café- style introduction (audio only) to the same topic.


Using a series of high-profile case studies (e.g. chytridiomycosis, white nose syndrome of bats, wheat rust, potato late blight), students will learn about the biology of disease in six modules:

•       Introduction: case studies- what is disease?, animal vs plant hosts, physiology and cell biology of host-pathogen interactions (wk 1-2);

•       Disease agents: focus on filamentous pathogens (fungi and oomycetes), life cycles, disease cycle (wk 3-4);

•       Disease ecology: epidemiology, quantitative models, vectors, disease management (wk 5-6);

•       Research methods: how do we identify agents of disease and their mode of transmission? (wk 7-8)

•       Pathogen-host coevolution: genetics of tolerance/ resistance/ susceptibility and virulence (wk 9-10)

•       Disease in agriculture (incl. crop breeding for disease resistance) and wildlife conservation; global economic and ecological relevance (wk 11-12)

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Critical thinking, problem solving, analytical and reasoning skills applied in the writing of a research proposal.
Group/team working
Some of the follow-up tasks on Blackboard will involve collaboration, eg by discussion or contributions to a wiki.
The preparation of the lecture and the Science Café-style talk allow for considerable creativity.
Oral communication
The Science Café-style talk promotes communication skills with a lay audience.
Problem solving
Critical thinking, problem solving, analytical and reasoning skills applied in the writing of a research proposal.
Original research and other sources will be used to assemble a lecture on a pathogen of choice.
Written communication
The articulation of a research problem and the justification of an experimental approach will be trained with the writing of a research proposal.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 20%
Written assignment (inc essay) 30%
Oral assessment/presentation 10%
Set exercise 40%

Follow-up tasks on Blackboard: 2-3 questions or small tasks for each module; may include plotting graphs, preparing and annotating diagrams etc. (20%)

Research proposal (3-4 pages): Identification of an unknown disease agent and its mode of transmission. (30%)

Science Café-style talk (3 min audiofile): Introduction to a pathogen of choice (same as below) for a non-expert audience (10%)

Lecture slides (15-20 slides) + notes about a pathogen of choice (same as above) that is not covered elsewhere in the course (40%)

Feedback methods

Formative feedback is available for draft research proposals submitted by week 8 (final proposal due wk 12). Formative feedback is also given with all marked assessments.

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Thomas Nuhse Unit coordinator

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