BSc Neuroscience with Industrial/Professional Experience / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL10511
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Biological Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No


The Biodiversity Unit tells the story of life on earth from its first emergence, around 4 billion years ago until the present day, focussing on how complex life evolved from simple structures to produce the rich diversity of organisms found in ecosystems: from the smallest microbes to blue whales and giant redwoods. You will learn about the range of plants and animals and about the key evolutionary innovations that led to their emergence. You will also learn that organisms should not be considered in isolation but that they interact in ways that affect each other's form and function and how they have come to shape the physical world we live in.


  1. To give students an overview of the range of life on earth, including plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms
  2. To identify the key evolutionary innovations leading to the diversity of modern life
  3. To examine how life has changed the physical world and how organisms have evolved in response to their changing environment
  4. To identify and describe  the characteristics of selected diverse organismal groups

Learning outcomes

At the end of this unit, students will be able to:

      identify the key characteristics of major groups of prokaryotes and eukaryotes;

      explain how eukaryotes arose from prokaryotes and how multicellular organisms evolved from unicells;

      describe the relationships between major groups of organisms and to identify key innovations which led to their divergence



Over 20 lectures and 2 self-directed exercises, you will be introduced to the range of life on earth, from the smallest microorganisms which emerged around 4 billion years ago, to the enormous diversity of species which exist today.

The first half of the course focuses on autotrophs - species which capture resources and energy from their environment. Starting by examining theories on the origins of life, we will discuss how organisms became more complex, with simple prokaryotes giving rise to more complex eukaryotes and single cell organisms evolving into multicellular ones. We will look in detail at how photosynthetic organisms developed from the first light-capturing bacteria to give rise to the breadth of algae and plants alive now and how, along the way, they changed the whole nature of the planet, making it possible for life to move from the oceans onto land.

The second part of the course examines the evolutionary history of heterotrophs, including the fungi, but concentrating in particular on the animals. We will look at how animals changed from simple collections of poorly differentiated cells to form complex body plans and how this was both driven by the need to capture resources from the environment and how changes in that environment through time helped drive evolution.

During the course, you will also visit the Manchester Museum and examine some of their extensive collection of biological specimens, including fossils, preserved plants and animals and a range of living specimens. You will also visit the University’s extensive living plant collection in Fallowfield. You will learn how research at Manchester University played an important role in developing our understanding of the evolution of life.

Employability skills

Group/team working
Students will work in small groups in lectures to discuss questions and be encouraged to interact with others through online discussion boards.
Oral communication
Students are encouraged to ask and answer questions during lectures.
Students will be helped, with directed reading, to research topics covered in lectures, to increase their understanding
Scientific Observation - trips to Manchester Museum and the University Botanical Grounds allow physical examination of biological specimens, with questions set to test observation and interpretation

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 10%
Written exam 90%

90% for a one hour examination (MCQs in the Semester 1 examination period, 10% for two exercises involving trips to Manchester Museum

Recommended reading

  • Sadava, D (2013) Life. The Science of Biology. (10th edition). Sinauer - Freeman (available as ebook to all students on the unit)
  • Ennos R and Sheffield E (2000) Plantlife. Blackwell Science (available as ebook to all students on the unit)
  • Hickman CP, Roberts LS, I'Anson H, Larson A, Eisenhour DJ (2008) Integrated Principles of Zoology. McGraw-Hill

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1
Lectures 20
Supervised time in studio/wksp 2
Independent study hours
Independent study 77

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Giles Johnson Unit coordinator

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