MSci Developmental Biology

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Introduction to Experimental Biology - Molecular & Cellular Biology

Unit code BIOL10412
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by School of Biological Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No


The unit consists of 7-8 practical sessions introducing the fundamental experimental approaches in bioscience and biomedical research appropriate to their specialist degree programme. Through a blended learning approach, students will gain knowledge and experience in working with a diverse array of experimental organisms ranging from microbes to humans; and gain expertise in working with DNA and proteins.


To equip students with the basic laboratory skills necessary to study the Life Sciences with a focus on Molecular and Cellular biology. This unit will provide the foundation for more advanced level 2 laboratory skills units.

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of this unit, students will have an in-depth theoretical understanding and be proficient in a number of basic laboratory techniques appropriate to their specialist degree programme. By the end of their first year students are expected to: be knowledgeable and competent in a range of practical techniques and skills appropriate to the biosciences; conduct experiments taking into consideration health and safety requirements; make detailed experimental observations, record, analyse and evaluate experimental and other scientific data; analyse experimental data using appropriate statistical methods; modify or design related experiments; communicate experimental work by means of written reports and assignments; use information technology in the research, analysis and presentation of scientific data; relate knowledge acquired in the laboratory to theoretical material covered in the lecture units; work both independently and as part of a team; make critical evaluation of both their own work and that of their peers; and reflect upon their skills development during their first year.


Students will undertake an online data handling unit (consisting of 10 weekly tutorials and associated assessments) and 7-8 practicals grouped in two strands.

Cells and genes:

• genotyping  by PCR,

• working with fruit flies and designing experiments,

• study of DNA mutation repair mechanisms (effects of radiation on yeast DNA),

Inside the cells: From DNA to proteins

• Restriction mapping of pGLO, transformation of bacterial cells and induction

• Study of gene transfer between bacteria (conjugation) on solid and liquid media

• Cytochrome c purification from sheep heart via ion-exchange chromatography

• Tyrosinase extraction from banana and measurement of activity (or an SDS-PAGE based experiment)

• Reaction kinetics of alcohol dehydrogenase.

For each practical, the students will further develop in context their data handling, data interpretation and statistical analysis skills by completing a pre-lab online activity and

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Analytical skills are developed during practical sessions or self-study, by analysing own or model data, working through (post lab) problems and by completing assessments (data handling module, pre-lab tests, examination and scientific poster).
Group/team working
Students work as part of a team (often a pair) during practical sessions and they have to organise their time efficiently. They will work together in small groups to produce and then present a scientific poster summarising one of their practical experiments.
Problem solving
Problem solving skills are developed during practical sessions and through completing assessments (examination and scientific poster). Students are expected to go through questions in the practical manual, and may have to overcome technical problems during practical sessions. Academic staff and demonstrators are available to help with solving problems in the lab. Students are also encouraged to solve our post-lab practice problem in preparation for the end of unit examination
For the scientific poster, students need to understand the content of some scientific papers provided and to search for others in order to write the introduction.
Written communication
Producing a scientific poster requires students to present a brief background to the practical, to accurately and concisely describe the methods used and the results obtained and to draw conclusions from their data. This exercise also requires students to search for scientific papers and to reference these correctly. They must conform to the required format for each section.
Students are required (in their groups) to present their posters to the other members of their tutorial group and their advisor. The advisor will prepare questions to ask individuals within the group, and the group will be scored on their responses.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 50%
Written exam 50%

Students will be assessed in several ways:- successful completion of data handling skills online course (10%)• a group poster presentation describing one practical (20%)• An eLearning assignment based on writing a lab report (10%)- a 90 min examination consisting of two problems (50%) (similar to the post lab practice problems).- satisfactory class participation (10%). For each practical, satisfactory participation will be defined by completion of the pre-lab activity, attendance AND satisfactory completion of the class. Failure to complete the pre-lab activity prior to attending the practical will be recorded as an absence for the practical (even if the practical session is attended). NB: Attendance at practical sessions is compulsory and absences will be recorded as part of the general work and attendance system. The 10% will be awarded only if students satisfactorily participate in at least 80% of the classes/prelab activities. Otherwise, students will get a mark of 0 and further penalties for absences will be applied (see manual).Criteria to pass the unit:

- A mark of at least 40% is required to pass this unit. Failure of this unit will result in a resit written examination and loss of compensation for other failed first year examinations.
- A minimum of 50% attendance in required to pass this unit. Failure to do so will result in a resit practical examination and loss of compensation for other failed first year examinations.

Feedback methods

For each data handling module, students have practice questions for which they gain feedback. They need to score at least 70% in the practice questions to be able to take the final assessment for each module.


For the online pre-lab activities and eLearning assignment, the feedback is given in the form of a mark and students have two further attempts to improve their marks based on the feedback.


During the practical sessions, there will be many opportunities for students to get feedback from staff or demonstrators on technical performance and conceptual understanding of the practical tested through the questions and exercises posed in the practical manual.


Online delivery provides answers to questions and post lab problems via model answers or video tutorials. Extra support is provided via a discussion board or virtual or face to face clinics.


For the scientific poster, support will be provided through several resources and an online assignment as well as 1 or 2 tutorials. Feedback will be provided by the academic advisor.

Students will get feedback on their overall performance in the form of the final mark for the unit.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.5
Practical classes & workshops 36
Independent study hours
Independent study 62.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Maggy Fostier Unit coordinator

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