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Department of Plant Sciences


Year One

Part IA Biology of Cells

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This interdepartmental course is taught by members of the Biochemistry, Genetics, Plant Sciences and Zoology Departments, and comprises 60 lectures with accompanying practicals. Its aim is to provide an introduction to cell biology, and is accessible to students with no prior knowledge of biology. However, Chemistry to A level (or equivalent) is assumed. The course covers: The Living Cell; Macromolecules in the Cell; The Chemistry of Life; Hunting the Gene; Genes in Action; The Genetic Revolution; Cell Development; Cell Communication.

Part IA Evolution and Behaviour

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Evolution and Behaviour is taught jointly by the Departments of Biological Anthropology, Biochemistry, Experimental Psychology, Genetics, Plant Sciences and Zoology. The course aims to provide an introduction to the major principles of evolutionary theory, and ranges from the origins of life, through the evolution of plants and animals to the evolution of behaviour. The course consists of five half-term sections: Evolutionary theory; The origins of cells and the evolution of plants; The evolution and diversity of animals; The evolution of behaviour; Primate and human evolution and behaviour.

Part IA Mathematical Biology

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Mathematical Biology is the first-year Natural Sciences mathematics course designed for biologists. The course teaches a range of skills in mathematical modelling, probability and statistics and simple computer programming. The course is designed to approach these areas from an integrated biological point of view. Mathematical Biology provides a broad base for further studies across all of biology, and should be considered by all biologists, whether their primary interests lie in molecular and cellular disciplines, physiology, psychology, or in ecology and evolution. The course is taught jointly by members of staff from all Departments in the School of Biology.

Part IA Physiology of Organisms

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Physiology of Organisms is an essential core biological course, and the Departments of Physiology Development and Neuroscience, Plant Sciences and Zoology are all involved in its teaching. The course provides a wider context for the material provided in the Biology of Cells course, and gives a contemporary understanding of how integrated organisms function. It also underpins the broader issues covered in the Evolution and Behaviour course. It provides a highly recommended introduction to all IB biological courses, as well as providing general interest to anyone curious to know how complex biological 'machines' work. Lecture blocks are as follows: An Introduction to Physiology; Nerves, Synapses and Sense Organs; Structure and Function of Muscle; Cardiovascular Physiology; Osmoregulation in Animals; Animal Oxygen Acquisition and Respiration; Animal Nutrient Acqusition; Homeostasis; Plant Physiology: An Introduction; Plant Hormones; Plant Adaptations and Interactions; Physiology of Plant-Microbe Interactions; Energy and Temperature Balance; Comparative Physiology: Form and Function; Comparing the Physiology of Plants and Animals.

Year Two

Part IB Cell and Developmental Biology

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Cell and Developmental Biology is a second year course which builds on the knowledge of elementary cell biology provided by the first year Biology of Cells course. The course is interdepartmental and is taught by Plant Sciences, Genetics, Zoology and Biochemistry. It can be taken in combination with any other subject in Part IB of the Natural Sciences Tripos, except Material Science and Metallurgy with which it clashes in the Lecture Timetable.

The course will introduce you to some of the major ideas and current experimental approaches to cell and developmental biology, and in the process will illustrate how molecular approaches complement classical cell biology in finding out the details of how cells carry out their basic processes. The course aims to consolidate and extend your basic knowledge of how cells work, how they interact and how they differentiate. It will provide a framework for further specialised study of molecular, cellular and developmental biology in the third year. Cell and developmental biology are advancing rapidly and the course will illustrate the excitement of these advances.

Part IB Ecology

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The course introduces a variety of approaches to the study of the relationship between plants, animals and the environment. The course examines:Global patterns of productivity, and the structure and operation of some aquatic and terrestrial communities; Evolutionary ecology: including optimal foraging theory, interactions between predator and prey, and the comparative ecology of mammals, with special reference to breeding systems; Ecological genetics: spread of genes through populations and the role of natural selection in predator-prey relationships, polymorphism and mimicry; Ecological dynamics: populations, communities and ecosystems; Biodiversity; Human impact on the environment.

Part IB Plant and Microbial Sciences

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This course aims to provide a truly integrated view of Plant and Microbial Sciences which incorporates the molecular, cellular and ecological approaches to the subject. Under each topic the lectures address both our current understanding of the relevant processes at the cellular and molecular levels and explore their relevance to the major issues and ideas to arise from studying plants and microbes in the field. Practicals provide an integrated training to prepare you for future independent project work.  Lectures and practicals are supported by specialist supervisors while theory and practice are brought together in field trips, including one to Portugal.

In the Michaelmas Term plants in their physical environment are considered. In the Lent Term plants and microbes in their biotic environment are studied, and in Easter Term the course looks at plant ecosystems. The study of Plant and Microbial Sciences is essential if we are to solve problems related to the biosphere and its exploitation, including biotechnology, renewable energy resources and nutrition, conservation and pollution.

Year Three

Part II Plant Sciences

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The study of plants is the fundamental life science. Our existence depends on plants converting solar energy into usable biochemical energy via photosynthesis, and plants furnish almost all our food requirements. Similarly microorganisms make up a large proportion of the world's biomass and their study is of tremendous importance in understanding both beneficial and harmful aspects of their interactions with plants. Furthermore, both Plant Biology and Microbiology are becoming increasingly significant with new developments in biotechnology and ever-increasing environmental problems.

The Plant Sciences Part II course reflects the growing need to understand more fully how plants work from cellular to population and community levels. It also features modules on microbial science, currently one of the most dynamic areas of biology. This scope enables you to experience experimental approaches ranging from molecular biology to ecological modelling. The modular nature of the course means that you can study for an entirely molecular Plant Sciences degree, an entirely ecological Plant Sciences degree, a degree with a significant microbiology component or any combination that suits you.

There has never been a more exciting time to study Plant Sciences, not least as we are faced with the challenges of conservation and exploitation of plant and microbial life to feed and fuel a burgeoning population. We hope that you will join us.