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2023/24 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

FOBS1135 The Basis of Life

20 creditsClass Size: 393

Module manager: Dr Glyn Hemsworth

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2023/24

This module is mutually exclusive with

BIOL1112The Molecules of Life
BLGY1115Introduction to Cell Biology: from Molecules to Cells and Ti

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Life on Earth comprises many different organisms of hugely different shapes and sizes, living in a wide range of habitats, so it is amazing to realise that every one of these, from bacteria to insects, trees to whales – and of course, humans - relies on similar structures and chemical reactions to maintain life. Understanding these molecular processes and cell structures gives us an insight into how organisms succeed, and why they sometimes fail to thrive. Recognising the sometimes subtle differences between organisms helps to design beneficial interventions, such as drugs to treat cancer, and weed killers that do not harm food crops.In The Basis of Life we will reveal the fundamental processes of life, identifying the key concepts that underpin the biological processes in all living organisms, from bacteria to elephants. Living cells are able to perform a huge variety of different and complex functions, yet 99% of their mass is made up of just 6 common elements. These simple organic elements are organised into the large macromolecular structures and polymers (nucleic acids, proteins, polysaccharides and lipids) that are crucial for life. Chemical structure determines biological roles, illustrated by the properties of enzymes, the biological catalysts that control metabolic processes. We will explore the structure and function of cells, and cover aspects ranging from basic energy metabolism in micro-organisms to higher order structures including the complexity and purpose of cell compartmentalisation in higher life-forms. The way in which cells containing identical genetic information develop into specialised cell types to form tissues with different functions will be introduced through the concept of cell polarity and cell adhesion. The scope of the course will include microbial, plant and animal examples. The course also aims to illustrate how multidisciplinary approaches will be crucial for the new post genomic research era we are starting to explore, depending not only on classic biology and biochemistry, but also involving mathematics and physics.


On completion of the module, students will have a comprehensive grounding in the molecular basis of life from the atomic scale up to cells. This will be organised in three interrelated themes
i) Molecules of Life: outlines the essential biochemical concepts that underpin living processes;
ii) Energy & Metabolism: this covers how energy captured from sunlight drives metabolic processes and the main biosynthetic pathways;
iii) The Living Cell: outlines cellular organisation and function.

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module, students should be able to demonstrate a good understanding of:
- the diversity of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells;
- the basic concepts of chemistry and how this helps us understand the structures and functions of the principal macromolecules of cells including proteins and an introduction to enzymes;
- DNA replication and cell division;
- the structures of DNA and RNA, and the enzymology of aspects of their replication, transcription and translation;
- energy metabolism in micro-organisms, plants and animals;
- carbohydrates: structures and roles;
- lipids and cell membranes, including transporters, channels and cell signalling;
- intracellular structures, including organelles, cytoskeleton and molecular motors;
- how to appreciate genetic and biochemical approaches involved in exploring cell biology.


This course will provide the core concepts central to biochemistry and cell biology, covered by three central themes:
1. Molecules of Life
2. Energy & Metabolism
3. The Living Cell

Molecules of Life
- Cell chemistry. functional groups, bonding and macromolecules;
- Lipids and membranes;
- Sugars and polysaccharides;
- Amino acids and proteins, protein structure and function, protein folding and disease;
- Enzymes, introduction to basic thermodynamics, substrate binding and catalysis, enzyme kinetics and measuring reaction rates;
- Nucleic acids and the central dogma;
- DNA Replication, genome organization and DNA repair;
- RNA, transcription and non-coding RNA, differences between prokaryote/eukaryote translation, introduces post-translational modification.

Energy & Metabolism
- Microbial bioenergetics:
- Introduction to metabolism and fatty acids;
- Glycolysis and the TCA cycle;
- Oxidative phosphorylation;
- Nitrogen metabolism and amino acid synthesis;
- Photosynthesis.

The Living Cell
- The cell cycle and cancer;
- Genes and chromatin, genome structure;
- Control of gene expression;
- Protein targeting to the ER, membrane protein synthesis, sorting and secretion;
- Endocytosis;
- The cytoskeleton;
- Cell adhesion and signalling;
- Tools for biological research;
- Cell polarity and differentiation.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Independent online learning hours60.00
Private study hours105.00
Total Contact hours35.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

60 hours: Several text book chapters will be recommended and a portfolio of online resources and MCQs will be provided to guide students during term-time with respect to revision. A range of blended learning activities will run in parallel with the module to provide opportunities for self-guided learning and formative assessment.
- Preparation for coursework MCQs: 30 hours
- Using online materials provided for each topic: 30 hours

105 hours: Reading, revision, private study, preparation for examinations.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Synchronous online delivery of lectures via MS Teams. Student engagement will be monitored in line with standard faculty practice.
- Completion of coursework - MCQs on-line.
- Engagement with VLE resources.
- voluntary drop-in sessions.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
In-course MCQ1 x MRQ test (on-line) - to be completed within 24 hours in a single attempt.50.00
In-course MCQ1 x MRQ test (on-line) - to be completed within 24 hours, in a single attempt50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

MRQ test to be completed in a single attempt restricted to a defined duration once the test starts.

Reading list

There is no reading list for this module

Last updated: 28/04/2023 14:47:37


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