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The biology of survival

The biology of survival  is an innovative module covering the biology and diversity of whole organisms from an evolutionary perspective. Interactions between diverse examples of cooperating and/or competing organisms, including predators and prey, are explored along with their changing environments. Various plants, animals and fungi are used to illustrate how adaptation in the physiology and behaviour of organisms contributes to survival. An important component is an investigative strand, in which you will undertake real and virtual experiments. Through this study and investigative combination, you will develop practical and analytical skills using at-home and on-screen interactive experiments to generate and analyse your own unique data sets.

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Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
2 8 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

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What you will study

This module covers various aspects of the physiology, behaviour, ecology and evolution of whole organisms using a wide range of representative examples of plants, animals and fungi. The overarching theme of the module and the context within which all the teaching materials are presented is adaptation and natural selection. From this evolutionary viewpoint, both the unity and diversity of many organisms are explored in the introductory activities that include identifying local wildlife that you have observed, to investigating how butterflies adapt their camouflage to their changing surroundings. You will also be introduced to the module practicals that are presented in the Investigative Biology strand and how the data you collect will be used for your assessment tasks.

Topic 1 Interdependence: introduces the idea of interdependence and the module themes of Phylogeny, Coevolution, Communication and Energy flow. Most of the examples of interdependence used involve insects and plants, especially ants and acacias. You will also be introduced to the practical skills of testing biological hypotheses through experiments and statistical analysis.

Topic 2 Migration: introduces migration in animals, with special reference to birds, and also introduces the module themes of Movement, Selection and Homeostasis. The topic includes practical skills in the form of a hands-on experiment designed to develop your skills in experimental design and hypothesis testing.

Topic 3 Wood-wide web: focuses on the set of varied interactions that make up the wood-wide web, a relatively recent concept that has generated new ideas about how plant species interact. It also acquaints you with fungi, one of the major eukaryotic kingdoms, and the technique of using isotopes to understand biological systems. In terms of the module themes, this topic introduces Interactions, Energy transformations and Nutrient flux. You will learn important literacy skills including how to identify key publications to summarise information and cite and reference publications appropriately.

Topic 4 Reproductive behaviour: looks at reproduction and sexual selection, focussing on frogs and toads, and introduces the module themes of Growth, Communication, Selection and Phylogeny. Skills you will learn include conducting an onscreen experiment and collecting data, analysing and interpreting results, and using bibliography tools to compile a reference list.

Topic 5 Surviving with limited water: considers the role of water in terrestrial ecosystems and develops the module themes: Homeostasis, Growth and Energy transformations. Many of the examples given in this topic are plants from desert habitats, which have been used to emphasise more extreme adaptations. The topic also develops your practical skills in looking at tissue structure (via a digital microscope), as well as web searching and data analysis.

Topic 6 Predation: covers various aspects of predation, including ecological perspectives of interactions between predators and prey, the behaviour of predators and the evolution of specialist large cat predator groups. The topic develops the module themes of Interactions, Movement and Coevolution. The skills of report reading/writing and hypothesis formulation, along with analysing and interpreting correlations, are also covered.

Topic 7 Surviving the cold: explores many of the different ways in which a range of organisms adapt to cold environments. In doing so, it develops the module themes of Nutrient flux and then Energy flow and Energy transformations, focusing on respiration. The topic further develops your practical skills in developing and testing biological hypotheses through an online experiment, by devising and using data collection methods to gather results ready for analysis.

Topic 8 Crustacean behaviour: uses examples of marine invertebrates to apply the module themes of Communication and Phylogeny. The topic activities further develop your skills of data handling and analysis.

Topic 9 Selective breeding: focuses on the implications of artificial selection and captive breeding for survival, and uses mammalian examples of each to apply the module themes of Selection as well as Nutrient flux. The topic further develops your practical skills of designing data collection methods to use with films of elephant behaviour.

Topic 10 Sunshine and fresh air to cheese: This topic covers a number of integrated biological systems involving the conversion of light energy into the food product cheese, via the dairy cow and the cheese-making process. In doing so, the topic material applies the module themes of Homeostasis, Growth and Energy flow. It also refines your skills of performing calculations and using these to make comparisons.

Topic 11 Pollination: In the final topic of this module the rich variety of interactions between plants and flower visitors is explored and you will carry out your own investigations and write up a practical report. This topic applies the module themes of Interactions, Coevolution and Movement.

Investigative Biology: as you work your way through the module materials you will simultaneously be undertaking investigative biology with 5 practicals: Bird visual discrimination - prey selection; Plant stomata; Cold adaptation in laboratory rats; Observing Asian elephant behaviours: eating and defecating and Pollinators. Through these investigations you will also develop and practice your skills of reading scientific literature and writing up practical reports.

Vocational relevance

By studying this module you will develop your understanding of whole organism biology and will be equipped to apply your understanding of the concepts of adaptation and evolution to alternative biological examples. Through this combination of study and practical investigation, you will also develop digital literacy, practical and analytical skills by carrying out a number of investigations using at-home and on-screen interactive experiments to generate and analyse your own unique data sets.

Outside the UK

There are a number of practicals that may require students to obtain and use materials at home and availability of some products may be a problem.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


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 biology of survival (S295) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2022.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2023.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Course work includes:

    3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    2 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
    No residential school

    Entry requirements

    This is a Stage 2 module and you will need to have study skills appropriate for this level of science study, obtained either by OU level 1 study with the OU, or with another higher education institution. You are likely to find parts of this module difficult if you have no knowledge of biology or basic maths.

    If you are new to study at a higher education level, we recommend that you have studied one of our key introductory Stage 1 modules – Science: concepts and practice (S112), Environment: journeys through a changing world (U116) – before this OU level 2 module.

    We strongly recommend that you check whether or not your background and experience are sufficient to give you a sound basis on which to tackle this module, since we have found that students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully and get the most enjoyment out of the module.

    The Science Faculty has produced an interactive program Are You Ready For S295? 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.


    Start End Fee
    - - -

    No current presentation - see Future availability

    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2023.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    If your income is not more than £25,000 or you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Field school/laboratory school

    This module has an optional field school/laboratory school. You must pay an additional charge for tuition, accommodation and meals (see module details for further information). You must also pay for your travel to and from the venue. Due to the ongoing pandemic, we may replace face-to-face events with online alternatives.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2022. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 22/10/2021.

    What's included

    This module does not have any printed material. All teaching material and supporting assets such as video, audio, computer interactive activities, Digital Literacy (stage 2) activities, links to other resources such as internal and external websites are embedded within the VLE texts of the module.

    There are ebook downloadable versions of the Module guide, Introduction, 11 individual topics and Investigative Biology. As well as a glossary, assignments, specimen exam paper and answers, forums and other resources all provided via a dedicated website.

    You’ll have access to the S295 module website, which includes:

    • a week-by-week study planner
    • course-specific module materials
    • audio and video content
    • assignment details and submission section
    • online tutorial access.

    You will need

    Ingredients to make dough (flour, water, 2 colours of food dye, preferably yellow and red), basic outdoor clothing and footwear for fieldwork and a Lab book.

    Computing requirements

    You'll need a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of 64-bit Windows 10 (note that Windows 7 is no longer supported) or macOS and broadband internet access.

    To join in spoken conversations in tutorials we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

    Our module websites comply with web standards and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

    Our OU Study mobile App will operate on all current, supported, versions of Android and iOS. It's not available on Kindle.

    It's also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook, however, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you'll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S295 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.