Building Blocks of Life

University of Reading

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Building Blocks of Life

  • Host University

    University of Reading

  • Location

    Reading, England

  • Area of Study


  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • ECTS Credits

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    Module Provider: School of Biological Sciences
    Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
    Terms in which taught: Autumn term module
    Non-modular pre-requisites:
    Modules excluded:
    Module version for: 2016/7

    Summary module description:
    Genes and cells are the fundamental building blocks of all life. All life is made up of cells and their function is controlled by genes. In this module we will introduce students to the dynamic nature of the cell and major concepts in cell biology and genetics. Microbial, animal and plant cell structures are examined and compared during a tour of the structure and function of the major organelles. The module also provides an overview of major cellular processes including energy production, cell death, cell communication, photosynthesis, stem cells, organization of cells into tissues and how cells survive extreme environments. Alongside this understanding of cells we will also examine genetics and genetic tools to understand transcription and translation, inheritance and evolution, gene regulation and key experimental techniques such as genetic engineering.

    To introduce students to major concepts in cell biology and genetics, and to understand their application in each specialism.

    Assessable learning outcomes:
    At the end of the module students will be able to:
    - List and describe the properties of cells, the principal organelles (structure and function) and the molecular components of these.
    - Describe and discuss cell transport mechanisms.
    - Describe the processes involved in energy generation in cells.
    - Discuss the basic life cycle of a cell and how this is regulated by signals from the environment.
    - Understand the concepts of robustness, compartmentalisation and specialisation.
    - Describe the structure of nucleic acids and explain the significance of their structure in replication and transfer of genetic information.
    - Transcribe and subsequently translate a DNA sequence to a polypeptide sequence with the aid of a table of genetic codings.
    - Explain the basic principles of genetic engineering and demonstrate how this knowledge has revolutionised biology.
    - Describe how DNA may be sequenced and how sequences may be used in a restricted range of inferential contexts.
    - Infer a restriction map of a plasmid from fragment length measurements after digestion.
    - Provide an explanation of the basic principles of gene regulation in prokaryotes and eukaryotes
    - Understand inheritance patterns of autosomal, sex-linked and cytoplasmic genes
    - Infer simple genetic maps in prokaryotes and eukaryotes
    - Recognise, name, and describe the function of cell structures involved in inheritance in eukaryotes and prokaryotes
    - Describe meiosis and its differences from mitosis
    - Explain the process of evolution by natural selection, with examples
    - Predict the consequences of simple experiments on genetic control
    - Describe the composition of the human genome and its similarities and dissimilarities to other sequenced genomes.
    - Interpret electrophoresis gels, determine genotypes of individuals at polymorphic loci and make inferences about relationships between individuals.
    - Explain what a phylogeny is.

    Additional outcomes:
    Students will have improved their technical lab skills and team working skills through practical sessions.

    Outline content:
    An approximate breakdown of lecture content as follows:

    1. An introduction to the origins of cells. Prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Cellular dimensions.
    2. Compartments and organelles; membranes, ribosomes, etc.
    3. The differences between Animal and Plant cell structure and function.
    4. Proteins: the amino acids responsible for properties of proteins and the basics of their structure. Diversity of form and function of proteins, e.g., enzymes, structural, etc.
    5. Structures and function of cell membranes.
    6. Mitochondria: a site of ATP synthesis and a regulator of apoptotic cell death.
    7. Photsynthesis; the light harvesting reactions. Photosynthesis; carbon dioxide fixation.
    8. Cell growth, proliferation, differentiation and death and how these processes are regulated by a cell's environment.
    9. Organisation of cells into tissues and their interaction with their environment.
    10. Structure and organisation of nucleic acids in eukaryotes and prokaryotes
    11. Genetic tools and how they work: PCR, transformation, sequencing DNA.
    12. Transcription of information from DNA into RNA, physical organisation of genes, export and processing of mRNA; translation of RNA into protein, Genetic code.
    12. Lac and Trp operons in bacteria and basic differences in gene regulation between pro and eukaryotes. Control elements/regions in the DNA, chemical modification of DNA as a control mechanism.
    13. The molecular mechanisms and evolutionary consequences of sex and recombination.
    Inference about inheritance in diploid eukaryotes using controlled crosses and pedigrees.
    Inheritance patterns of multiple traits, linkage of genetic loci on chromosomes in eukaryotes, the concept of a genetic map; sex-linked traits.
    14. The human genome and how it was sequenced, genome structure and genome evolution.

    Brief description of teaching and learning methods:
    Lectures, practical classes, directed reading, online tests.

    Contact hours:
    Lectures- 30
    Practical classes and workshops- 10
    Guided independent study- 160
    Total hours by term- 200

    Summative Assessment Methods:
    Written exam- 70%
    Report- 10%
    Class test administered by School- 20%

    Other information on summative assessment:
    Formative assessment methods:

    Length of examination:
    A-one-and-a-half-hour examination

    Requirements for a pass:
    A mark of 40% overall

    Reassessment arrangements:
    Re-examination in August/September

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

Some courses may require additional fees.

Credits earned vary according to the policies of the students' home institutions. According to ISA policy and possible visa requirements, students must maintain full-time enrollment status, as determined by their home institutions, for the duration of the program.

ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) credits are converted to semester credits/quarter units differently among U.S. universities. Students should confirm the conversion scale used at their home university when determining credit transfer.

Please reference fall and spring course lists as not all courses are taught during both semesters.

Please note that some courses with locals have recommended prerequisite courses. It is the student's responsibility to consult any recommended prerequisites prior to enrolling in their course.


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