Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2017-2018 (archived)


Department: Biosciences


Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2017/18 Module Cap Location Durham


  • • Level 2 Molecular Biology (BIOL2441) OR Level 2 Plant and Algal Physiology (BIOL2571)


  • • At least one other Level 3 Biological Sciences Module selected from the following list: Behavioural Ecology BIOL3561, Conservation Biology BIOL3551, Ecology in the Anthropocine BIOL3541, Advanced Topics in Development BIOL3521, Stress and Responses to the Environment BIOL3491, Biochemistry and Biotechnology BIOL3601, Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering BIOL3531, Ageing and Age-Related Diseases BIOL3591, Advanced Cell Biology BIOL3481, Biology of Disease BIOL3621.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To present an overview of current research into improving plant productivity in agriculture, based on a historical perspective of crop selection and breeding.
  • To explore the bases of factors determining crop performance in the field.
  • To review modern technologies for crop improvement.


  • The origins of agriculture; plant selection and breeding.
  • Crop improvement technologies; molecular plant breeding and plant genetic engineering.
  • Plant productivity and yield limitations.
  • Crop protection; biotic and abiotic stresses.
  • Reprogramming plant processes; metabolic engineering.
  • New technologies, sustainable agriculture and global food shortages.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Knowledge of molecular techniques used in plant breeding.
  • Advanced knowledge of plant biochemistry in relation to production of primary and secondary metabolites, in relation to production of food, fuels and high value products such as pharmaceuticals.
  • Advanced knowledge of plant genetic engineering and its practical applications.
  • Knowledge of the ways in which new technologies are being deployed in world agriculture.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • To be able to interpret and analyse data from plant breeding and plant transformation experiments.
  • To be able to analyse experimental schemes for altering plant phenotype by making specific changes to the genome.
  • To be able to integrate information from different sources to form a balanced view of the use of new technologies in agriculture.
Key Skills:
  • Literacy, in being able to consult and extract information from printed and on-line archives.
  • Data analysis, in interpretation and critical analysis of data relevant to crop improvement.
  • Self-motivation, in self-guided learning.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Lectures deliver subject-specific knowledge.
  • Workshops support the development of key and subject-specific skills.
  • Self-guided learning contributes to subject-specific knowledge and self-motivation.
  • Reports / Data Handling Exercises are based on subject-specific knowledge.
  • Unseen examinations demonstrate achievement of the appropriate level of subject-specific knowledge of development, with an emphasis on understanding and communication (essay and problem-based questions).

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 35 Weekly 2 hours p/w 35
Workshops 2 Termly 1 hour 2
Preparation & Reading 163
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination Component Weighting: 80%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Unseen formal examination 3 hours 100% No
Component: Continuous Assessment Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Analytical exercise 100% No

Formative Assessment:


Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University