Biology at Cambridge comes under the Natural Sciences or NatSci umbrella. In the first year it is necessary to study 3 subjects plus on mathematical subject, but students can take a leaning towards the Biological sciences. There is a detailed overview of the combinations of subjects that can be taken on the Cambridge website.
Year 1 Options in Biological Science Overview:
|NST IA Biology of Cells|
Assessments lectures, supervisions, practical classes & web-based exercises.
|NST IA Elementary Maths for Biologists|
|Aims||Assessment lectures, examples classes and computer workshops.|
|NST IA Evolution and Behaviour|
Assessments lectures, supervisions, practical classes and a field course.
|Physiology of Organisms|
Year 2 Options in Biological Sciences (NSTIB)
In the second year, again 3 sub-specialty subjects must be chosen. This may include Animal Biology,Biochemistry and molecular Biology, cell & developmental biology, neurobiology & Plant and Microbiology Sciences. However, given the variety of other subjects on offer, many will choose to study something completely different form an interest perspective, and indeed inter-disciplinary study can complement the specialt focus quite nicely.
- Animal Biology
- Cell & Developmental Biology
- Experimental Psychology
- Plant and Microbial Sciences
- Systems Biology
Animal Biology: The course aims to demonstrate the extraordinary diversity of ways in which the behaviour, physiology, and development of animals are adjusted by evolutionary processes to result in adaptation to environment.
- Behaviour and Ecology – considers how different behaviour patterns will be favoured by natural selection under different ecological conditions.
- Life history strategies
- foraging behaviour
- habitat selection
- mate choice
- Brains and Behaviour – explores the ways in which brains are organized for the control of behaviour and for learning.
- Insect Biology and Vertebrate Evolutionary Biology – focus on adaptation and evolution.
- water balance
- insect-plant relationships
- mating strategies
- evolution of insect societies.
- integration of developmental and evolutionary studies to enhance the understanding of adaptation.
- Evolutionary Principles – review the theoretical fundamentals of evolutionary biology, and the methods available to interpret, understand, and predict the pattern and process of evolution.
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology: pursues the study of biological processes at the molecular and cellular level. Aims to describe how information is stored as DNA and expressed as specific proteins, how enzymes and other proteins exert their functions, how cells function as integrated and co-ordinated metabolic systems, and how the growth and differentiation of cells is controlled.
- Molecular Biochemistry: genes and proteins in action:
- gene cloning and manipulation,
- control of gene expression in prokaryotes and eukaryotes
- structure of proteins, the molecular mechanisms of enzyme action and the manipulation of protein structure to modify function.
- Cell Biochemistry: properties and functions of membranes and organelles and the integration of metabolism.
- bioenergetics (how cells obtain their energy supply on which all metabolism is based),
- control of eukaryotic cell proliferation and how signalling pathways in mammalian cells are activated by growth factors.
- ‘cancer genes’ (oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes) and how the control of the cell cycle may be subverted in the development of tumours
- biochemistry of microorganisms, including chemotaxis, protein secretion and targeting in prokaryotes.
Practical work at Cambridge involves experiments and integrated discussion sessions, the use of computers in the analysis of DNA and protein sequences and in the simulation of metabolic control, and journal clubs where small groups are guided by a senior scientist in the interpretation of a recent scientific paper.
Cell & Developmental Biology: aims to build on the foundation provided in Part IA Biology of Cells to extend and consolidate coverage of cell biology while updating the student with the recent advances and breakthrough’s in this rapidly changing field. The course is taught by jointly by the Departments of Biochemistry, Plant Sciences, Genetics, and Zoology and can be taken in conjunction with any other subject in Part IB of the Natural Sciences Tripos except Materials Science. The course is designed to complement Part IB Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in addition to Part IB Cell and Developmental Biology.
- Genetics: how genetic information is organised and expressed within the nuclei of eukaryotic cells and in prokaryotic systems.
- Cell contents:
- Biogenesis of chloroplasts and mitochondria
- cytoskeleton and cell motility
- membrane vesicle trafficking
- cell signalling.
- Development in animals and plants
Practical work involves experimental techniques that illustrate fundamental concepts and which are in current use in cell biology research.
The course, run jointly by the Departments of Genetics, Plant Sciences, and Zoology. It involves the study of the relationships between plants, animals, and the environment.
- It begins with a critical exposition of the characteristics of selected freshwater, marine, and terrestrial systems. The dynamics of these systems on different scales of time and space are emphasised.
- The impacts of humans are considered particularly in the context of global climate change, fire and aerial pollution.
- Aspects of evolutionary ecology considered include interactions between predators and prey, and the comparative ecology of mammalian body size, life histories, and mating systems.
The lectures on ‘ecological genetics’ considers arms races from a genetic perspective before discussing the behaviour of genes in populations and considering the evolution and maintenance of genetic variation using examples of conspicuous polymorphisms.
‘Ecological dynamics’ introduces general features of the dynamics of ecological systems at population and community levels. The third term starts with an overview of the world’s biodiversity, its origin, and maintenance.
The course ends with an investigation of the importance of humans in ecology, specifically studies of changes caused by humans and the role of conservation. Students taking the course are expected to attend a eleven day residential field course during the Long Vacation between the first and second years. Projects, normally done during the field course, will be examined.
The course provides an introduction to the study of mind, brain, and behaviour, with an emphasis on experimental and observational methods of investigation. The course aims to instil a broad understanding of the various approaches to the study of the mind and behaviour, of the interplay among experimental, behavioural and neurological evidence, and of the different levels of explanation used in modern experimental psychology.
Teaching methods include lectures supplemented by practical classes whose topics are related as closely as possible to those of the concurrent lectures. Sometimes students will run experiments and sometimes they will witness demonstrations or videos of phenomena.
Topics covered in the first term include:
- sensory processes and perception with special emphasis on vision and hearing; attention and the control of action; language and cognitive processes.
The remainder of the course covers
- learning and memory
- cognitive and social development
- intelligence (and its measurement)
- reasoning and problem-solving
- cognitive neuropsychology
Students are required to write reports on a certain number of these classes. Other practical classes provide an introduction to basic neurobiology and elementary statistics for psychology.
There are no prerequisites for the course, which is equally accessible to those who have specialised in biological or in physical sciences in Part IA. Students taking Part IIA in the Politics, Psychology and Sociology Tripos may take the NST Part IB Experimental Psychology course as Paper Psy2. It can also be taken by students taking Part IB in the Philosophy Tripos and Part II in the Modern and Medieval Language Tripos. Any student who has offered this paper in the previous year may take the NST Part II Psychology course, subject to criteria (see http://www.cam.ac.uk/about/natscitripos/part_ii/criteria/psychology.html).
This course is an interdepartmental collaboration between four biological departments
- Physiology, Development, and Neuroscience
It aims to provide a unified approach to the teaching of neurobiology at Part IB level. The lecture course begins at with the fundamentals at the cellular and molecular level and progresses to complex systems.
- electrical and chemical properties of individual neurons
- major sensory systems: vision, hearing, olfaction and taste, and somatosensation and pain
- Motor system:
- development of the nervous system
- origin of neuronal types and neuronal architecture
- development and regulation of neural connections
- Modulation of synaptic actvity
- motivation, emotion and the handling of language by the brain
- Easter term: learning, memory and higher functions of the nervous system, including language.
A wide range of experimental techniques and approaches is explored in the practical classes aiming to provide hands-on experience of a variety of the experimental techniques that are used in modern neurobiology: from microscopy, through single-neuron recordings, to stimulation and extracellular recordings from your own nerves and muscles, and finally to psychophysical measurements of human sensory and cognitive performance.
Some of the key experiments students will carry out are detailed below:
- neural activity in frog nerve and synapse and in cockroach sensory nerves
- computer simulation of neural activity
- neural development in zebrafish
- the genetic basis of neural function in the nematode C. elegans
- human sensory and motor function
- brain anatomy and histology
- brain imaging
- neuropsychological assessment.
Pathology is concerned with the scientific study of disease, and is one of the foundations of medical science and practice. It encompasses all aspects of disease, including knowledge of the causes and effects of disease, and the organism’s response to disease. The cause of a disease is often an injurious agent, but defects and deficiencies may also cause disease. Knowledge of how an organism responds to disease is important, as sometimes disease may arise as a result of an innate response of the organism to injury or infection.
The overall aim of the Part IB Pathology course is to explore the underlying general principles of Pathology and illustrate them using specific examples. This endeavour encompasses a broad range of biological disciplines, including
- cellular and genetic pathology
The lectures in these topics are closely integrated with practical sessions that take place twice each week. The course is equally suitable for all biological, medical, and veterinary students.
The course deals with the action of chemical substances on biological materials and thus has roots in both the physical and biological sciences. The first part of the course will be concerned with understanding, at the molecular level, how receptors work. The drugs of tomorrow are developed on the basis of drug targets developed by molecular biologists and pharmacologists using computer modelling techniques, and this course provides an introduction.
Lectures will examine the fundamental processes of molecular recognition and then consider in detail how, having recognised a drug, receptors are able to generate a signal that changes cellular activity. Following a detailed consideration on synaptic pharmacology, lectures will focus on drugs that influence the function of the central nervous system. The second and third terms will emphasize the importance of combining molecular and cellular biology with more traditional pharmacological approaches, drawing on examples from the control of inflammation and immune responses. Lectures will focus on processes that control the distribution and fate of drugs in our body, with a lecture on general anaesthetics as an example.
In addition, lectures will introduce the use of drugs to produce selective inhibition of bacteria, protozoa and viruses. This is followed by two lectures on drug discovery, by lectures on cell growth, cancer and anticancer drugs, and by lectures on steroid receptors and reproductive pharmacology.
In the third term the molecular characteristics of ion channels will be combined with essential physiology to explain drug actions on the heart. Guidance for revision will be provided for students who have not taken Part IA Physiology of Organisms.
In the first term, a series of eight practicals complement the lectures by providing practical experience of basic techniques and illustrating important points. In the second term, most of the conventional practicals are replaced by mini-projects lasting for several sessions. In these you will have the opportunity to participate in ongoing research in the Department and to gain experience in performing research.
- Molecular targets
- CNS Pharmacology
- Cell growth and signalling
- Steroid receptors
- Ion channels
This course allows students to study systems physiology in detail and concentrates on mammals, in particular man. The course builds from knowledge of function at the cellular level to the complex operation of major body systems at the level of the whole organism.
- 60% – major body systems.
- 40% – integrated approach to examine how these systems respond to various challenges from the everyday to the extreme.
- autonomic nervous system
- cardiovascular system
- Endocrine system
- body fluid homeostasis
- reproductive physiology, starting with the male and female reproductive systems and following events from conception through implantation and embryonic development to parturition, and examining fetal, maternal, and neonatal physiology on the way.
- digestion, absorption, nutrition and body weight regulation
- response of the body to exercise, including the effects of training, detraining and the limitations on performance
- response of the body to extreme conditions presented by life in the arctic and in the desert, during space flight, when diving, when dieting, and during starvation.
Practical work is largely designed to allow students to study their own physiology. Examples include examining the effects of exercise on cardiac output and oxygen consumption, the effects of eating chocolate on blood glucose and respiratory quotient, and the pharmacological effects of drugs on isolated intestinal muscle. You will also be introduced to the principles of histology, including working with some of the latest, computer-based packages. Two practical classes in the second term are given over to the assessment of fitness and the effects of training in selected individuals. Part IB Physiology builds on topics introduced in Part IA Physiology of Organisms, but it is not essential to have taken this course to read Part IB Physiology. As well as being interesting in its own right (even to predominantly physical scientists), Physiology is well suited to accompany many other Part IB courses in the life sciences, including Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Cell and Developmental Biology, Experimental Psychology, Neurobiology, Pathology, and Pharmacology
Plant productivity is the basis for Life on Earth. Research into fundamental plant processes informs teaching and learning, as we discover how plants continue their vital role: from providing food and sustainable fuel sources, to sequestering carbon, maintaining diversity and ecosystems. Learn how plant selection and crop improvement – or even designer plants and micro-organisms – will be used to tackle environmental stress, pests and pathogens, so as to feed humankind and provide a sustainable future. The course reflects the growing need to understand how plants work from cellular to population and community levels. It also features 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. Specific supervision support offers additional examples of how your learning translates into wider global issues such as food and fuel security, bioremediation, biodiversity and climate change. The study of plants is essential if we are to achieve the conservation and sustainable exploitation of the biosphere, and deal with issues such as renewable energy, nutrition, pollution and biotechnology. The Part IB Plant and Microbial Sciences course develops a number of aspects introduced in the first year (Part IA) Biology of Cells, Physiology of Organisms and Evolution and Behaviour courses. The aim of the course is to provide a treatment of plant and microbial sciences which truly integrates the molecular, cellular and ecological approaches to the subject.
The course offers students the opportunity to consider all aspects of modern plant biology, including fundamental physiological processes such as:
- water relations and water uptake
- interaction of plants with micro-organisms and animals
- plant development
- exploitation of plant products.
Accompanying the lecture course are a number of practical sessions, comprising both lab-based experiments and field work which provide a fundamental training in good laboratory practice through the maintenance of laboratory notebooks. Students work collaboratively on a joint, themed research project in which they contribute to the design and development of the research strategies. A field course to Portugal is also offered to all students during the Easter Vacation. The Part IB Plant and Microbial Sciences course is an ideal complement to several other Part IB subjects including Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Cell and Developmental Biology, Animal Biology and Ecology. It provides important background to the more specialised subjects covered in Part II Plant Sciences, and also provides an excellent basis for Part II in Biochemistry, Genetics, Zoology, or Ecology.
Course requirements: It would be difficult to take Part IB Plant Sciences without some previous training in Biology, as provided for example by Part IA Biology of Cells. However, mathematicians, physicists, and chemists may wish to take the course to maintain an interest in Biology, and are in an excellent position to learn from and make a valuable contribution to a number of aspects of the subject.
In the third year it is possible to focus on Biology & Biomedical Sciences for the BA degree.
Systems Biology is an integrated approach to the study of living systems. It is quintessentially interdisciplinary with participation of biological, physical, mathematical, engineering and computational sciences. The emerging discipline is concerned as much with the links that connect components of a network as with the components themselves. A major focus is the determination of how the properties of networks arise from all their constituent links. A second strand focuses on the collection of detailed highly quantitative data from smaller systems with the goal of developing predictive mathematical descriptions of systems behaviour. Ultimately these strands will converge to provide accurate mathematical models of biological processes. Students will take the following modules as part of this course:
1) Induction Course: This aims to introduce a group of students from a range of backgrounds in the biological and physical sciences, mathematics, computer science, and engineering to the basic concepts, theories, and modelling and experimental techniques of Systems Biology.
2) Data Acquisition and Handling: This module will present the techniques used to acquire data in the various ‘omics’ approaches (transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics), as well as in highthroughput genetics. The module will emphasise the practical aspects of the challenges in dealing with large amounts of data and their experimental limitations.
3) Mathematical Modelling and Analysis of Networks: This module will look at computer-based network modelling and analysis, embodying tools of mathematics, informatics and statistics.
4) Synthetic and Executable Biology: The synthetic biology approach will be introduced, as will the practice of modelling by simulation using computational techniques. This module will include a focused design project in which the design is evaluated by in silico simulation. In addition to the above courses, which will incorporate lectures and practical classes, students will be required to attend two seminars per week during term, and carry out a research project in Michaelmas and Lent.
Genetics has become a high profile subject in the last few years as a result of the increasing knowledge of how human and animal genes work, and the application of this knowledge to areas like the problems of disease, genetic manipulation of plants and animals and so on. Genetics offers a viewpoint and a range of experimental approaches that finds application in many areas of biological enquiry. The subject has always been concerned with the problem of how the hereditary information in DNA specifies the form and function of the organism.
Classically this involved the use of genetic variants (mutants) to upset the biological function of the cell and, from the effect of these mutations, to make deductions about the way cells and organisms worked. The availability of sequence information and sophisticated techniques for gene replacement and analysis of gene expression patterns (microarray technology), give us much more powerful tools for looking at the way genes work to make us what we are. At the other end of the spectrum, a knowledge of genetics is fundamental to an understanding of the evolution of populations and species. Some of the most exciting developments in the subject in the last few years have emerged from the application of genetics and molecular biology to the problems of development, evolution, and speciation.
The aim of the Part II Genetics course is to produce biologists with a wide knowledge of the principles of genetics and an understanding of how they can be applied to a range of organisms. As a result the course is broad in scope, ranging from molecular genetics of bacteria to the genetics of evolution and populations.
- plant and microbial genetics
- chromosomes, the cell cycle, and cancer
- developmental genetics (part 1)
- human genetics, genomics, and systems biology
- developmental genetics
- human genetics, genomics, and systems biology
- evolutionary genetics
The course includes training in evaluation of scientific papers and features discussion sessions on the social and ethical aspects of genetics. As a result of a training with this breadth of approach, genetics graduates remain in demand and find it easy to move between scientific disciplines. Prospects can only improve as a result of genome projects, programmes in agricultural and medical genetics, the application of genetics to environmental problems and molecular genetic approaches to brain structure and function.
It is likely to be a huge area in the future, seeing the extension of the commercial world into that of the scientific. It currently attracts large research grants and offers a rewarding potential career option in research.