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Molecular and cell biology

Cells are the basic units of life. Cell biology seeks to understand not just the processes that are common to all life forms, but also the ways in which cells control their division and differentiate to form specialised tissues. This module builds from a foundation of molecular biology, with emphasis on animal cell biology. It explores how cells function and considers processes such as cell differentiation, ageing and tumorigenesis. It also develops skills in reading and understanding scientific literature and the handling of experimental data.


Start End Fee
- - -

No current presentation - see Future availability

This module is expected to start for the last time in February 2016.

What you will study

This module occupies a central position in the OU level 3 biology curriculum. Students from the health sciences or molecular science programmes will find the module equally relevant and interesting, but more challenging.

Specialisation and cell/cell communication are key elements in the development of the great range of multi-cellular organisms. In this module we relate the complex processes of life to the underlying molecular biology, since the functions of tissues ultimately depend on the genome of the organism and how it is expressed in different cell types. The module includes some material on plants and micro-organisms, but concentrates primarily on animal cells. The narrative progresses from molecular biology, through cell function, towards an understanding of processes important for biomedical science, such as cell ageing and tumorigenesis.

Book 1 is concerned with biological molecules and the ways in which they contribute to cell structure and organisation, and finally to their functions within the cell. For this book, a prior knowledge of basic chemical processes will help your understanding and accelerate learning.

Books 2 and 3 are the major component of the module and deal with many fundamental biological processes at the cellular level, including: DNA replication and repair; control of cell division; the expression of individual genes and how this is controlled and coordinated; the ways in which different processes are compartmentalised within a cell; the movement of molecules between different compartments; intracellular signalling pathways and how these are linked to extracellular signals; mechanisms that lead to cell death.

Book 4 looks at how the basic cell biology explains some types of more complex cellular behaviour. Cell migration is important in allowing cells to position themselves during development, but also underlies inflammation and repair. Differentiation is examined both in broad principle and in the context of specific organisms and tissues. Another section looks at cell ageing and senescence, asking why and how cells age and die. The final section takes tumour development as its theme, and relates it to DNA repair, the cell cycle, cell signalling, gene expression and other processes which have arisen earlier in the module.

The module will progressively develop your skills in reading and understanding the scientific literature. You should also appreciate that our knowledge of even the most complex cellular functions is based on observation and experiment. To give some experience of this, we have included an experimental strand, which will allow you to carry out virtual experiments, of the kind that would be used to investigate how cells work. You will also have the opportunity to use a molecular modelling software package to study and manipulate proteins and nucleic acids.

We strongly advise that you read the entry advice before registering for this module.


This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject. 

This module is most suitable for students who have studied Exploring science (S104) at OU level 1 and Cell biology (S294) or The molecular world (S205) or the discontinued S204 at OU level 2. 

If you have followed the human science strand of our curriculum (Human biology (SK277) or the discontinued module SD226, you will find the module equally relevant and interesting, but more challenging. 

We recommend that this module is not your first OU level 3 module and should be studied just before the OU level 3 project module, Researching biology and health science (SXL390)

As an OU level 3 module on a rapidly expanding subject, S377 is likely to present a challenge to its students in terms of the amount of information included in the module. The first book in S377 is more ‘chemical’ while the last three books are more ‘biological’. If you’re from a chemical background, you may find the biological content of the module demanding, while if you’re from a biological background, you may find the groundwork chemistry in Book 1 more challenging. It is thus essential that you establish whether or not your background and experience give you a sound basis on which to tackle the module, since those who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully. The Science Faculty has produced a booklet Are You Ready For S377? to help you to decide whether you already have the recommended background knowledge or experience to start the module or whether you need a little extra preparation. 

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

If you have already studied Biology: uniformity and diversity (S204) (now discontinued), you are well equipped to undertake S377. Book 3 of S204 The core of life contains OU level 2 cell biology that is the foundation for S377, so you might want to revise these topics before you start this module. In particular the chapters listed below which you can download:


S377 is an optional module in our:

It can also count towards most of our other degrees at bachelors level, where it can help weight your degree towards a BSc. We advise you to refer to the relevant qualification descriptions for information on the circumstances in which this module can count towards these qualifications because from time to time the structure and requirements may change.

If you have a disability

The study materials are available in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. You will need to spend considerable amounts of time using a personal computer and the internet. Please note that this module makes substantial use of complex visual material and includes a number of interactive exercises on DVD. 

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students..

Study materials

What's included

Module books with study guides, other printed materials; DVD, a website.

You will need

In addition to a calculator and a computer, you will need a scanner or digital camera in order to produce jpeg files of drawings and diagrams to include in your assignments. The alternative is to use a computer drawing package.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as the study materials and activities are accessible via a web browser. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available. For this module you will also need to install software provided by the OU on a disk or USB stick.

A Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system is suitable for this module. You will be required to install Microsoft Windows specific software.

A netbook, tablet, smartphone or Linux computer that supports one of the browsers listed below may be suitable. The screen size should be at least 1024 (H) x 768 (W) pixels. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to a suitable desktop or laptop computer with a Windows operating system, in case you are unable to carry out all the module activities because some software will not run on Mac OS X, Linux, iOS or Android devices.

We recommend a minimum 1 Mbps internet connection and any of the following browsers for web-based activities:

  • Internet Explorer 9 and above
  • Apple Safari 7 and above
  • Google Chrome 31 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 31 and above.

Note: using the latest version for your browser will maximise security when accessing the internet. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

To be able to talk and listen in our online discussions you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones.

See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module. 

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in February 2016 when it will be available for the final time.

How to register

We regret that we are currently unable to accept registrations for this module. Where the module is to be presented again in the future, relevant registration information will be displayed on this page as soon as it becomes available.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Essential Documents website.
    Course facts
    About this course:
    Course code S377
    Credits 30
    OU Level 3
    SCQF level 10
    FHEQ level 6
    Course work includes:
    3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    No residential school

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