MSci Microbiology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Genes, Evolution and Development

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL10521
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


This unit introduces you to the topics of evolution, genetics and development. You will discover how natural selection, also known as "survival of the fittest", drives evolution. You will learn how the interaction of organisms with each other and with their environment influences the outcome of the evolutionary process. You will discover how the analysis of genomes can be used to understand evolution. You will learn how genes are transmitted from one generation to the next and appreciate the importance of genes in human disease. You will discover how animals and plants develop, and the relationship between development and evolution.


To introduce Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection as the key concept in making sense of biology. To provide an introduction to the principles of inheritance and to appreciate the importance of genetics in understanding evolutionary and developmental processes. To provide an overview of the principles of developmental biology and the relationship between development and evolution.

Learning outcomes

You should understand basic genetic principles, both at the individual and population level, and appreciate the concept of natural selection as the driving force of evolution. You should appreciate how interactions between organisms and the environment, between individuals within a species, and between individuals of different species can shape selective forces and evolutionary outcomes. You should understand how genes control the development of organisms and appreciate the importance of development in evolutionary change.


Mechanisms of Evolution - Descent with modification: a Darwinian view of life. The evidence for evolution and major transitions in the evolution of life. Speciation and its mechanisms. Levels of selection, sexual selection and social evolution. Population genetics and genetic variation, Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, processes that change genotype and allele frequencies, evolution at the molecular level and genome evolution. Human evolution: evidence from ancient genomes.

Patterns and Principles of Inheritance - Mendelian inheritance and probability. The relationship between Mendelism and the behaviour of chromosomes during meiosis. Gene interactions, sex determination and sex-linked inheritance. Genetic linkage and gene mapping. Maternal inheritance and organelles. Genetics of complex characters and human genetics.

Developmental Biology - Overview of the principles of animal development: how a single-celled fertilised egg becomes an embryo and then a fully formed adult body. Cell fate and differentiation: overview of the mechanisms of developmental commitment and maintenance of cell differentiation. Stem cells and their applications in human medicine. Experimental developmental biology: model organisms and the main techniques to study development. Development and evolution: the evo-devo concept.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Problem sets/eLearning activities will require students to think analytically and to interpret and analyse experimental results
Problem solving
Problem sets/eLearning activities will require problem solving skills

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 20%
Written exam 80%

1 hour written examination (MCQs) in the semester 1 examination period (80%).
Coursework/eLearning (20%) made up of eLearning exercises (5%) and three problem sets (15%) completed online.

Feedback methods

Feedback via Learning Assignments, eLearning exercises, Problem Sets, Revision MCQs, Discussion Board. After summative assessment of the eLearning exercises and Problem Sets they will be available as revision aids. Students are encouraged to make use of the Discussion Board both to ask and to answer questions.

Recommended reading

  • Campbell N and Reece J (2014) Biology (10th edition). Benjamin Cummings
  • Coyne, JA (2009) Why Evolution is True. Oxford University Press
  • Savada, D (2014) Life: The Science of Biology (10th edition). Sinauer-Freeman

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 77

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Samina Naseeb Unit coordinator

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