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Cell and molecular biology

This module explores the fascinating world of living cells. You’ll learn about cell and tissue diversity in different organisms and the structures and processes that enable cells to survive, grow, multiply, move, and communicate. You’ll also explore laboratory techniques used to study cells and experience some of these techniques via online investigations throughout the module. In addition, you’ll use a bioinformatics database and develop your data interpretation and problem-solving skills. Through your study, you’ll better understand cell biology and its vital contribution to science and technology.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

Browse qualifications in related subjects

Module

Module code

S296

Credits

Credits

  • 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.
30

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.
Level of Study
OU SCQF FHEQ
2 9 5

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

This module develops your understanding of key cell biology concepts and helps you appreciate the bigger picture of how structures and processes inside cells work together. Throughout the module, you’ll learn to collect and interpret data from on-screen digital microscopes, databases, virtual on-screen investigations, and a remote access experiment with living cells.

The module comprises eleven topics:

Topic 1: The first cells
This topic introduces the module themes by exploring the earliest origins of cells and the processes from which life arose.

Topic 2: Cell diversity and structure
This topic introduces the diversity of cells among different organisms before examining cellular structures in detail. You’ll explore three-dimensional models of cells and use digital light, fluorescence and electron microscopes to better understand their structures.

Topic 3: Genes and genomes
This topic introduces the structure of genomes in different cell types before exploring the processes by which DNA is replicated and repaired. You’ll learn about genome sequencing in the laboratory and extract information from an online database that collates vast amounts of genomic data.

Topic 4: Gene expression
In this topic, you’ll explore how cells use the genetic information in DNA to produce functional proteins and RNAs. You’ll study the regulation of gene expression and learn about techniques used to measure it. You’ll also begin investigating the effects of a specific growth factor on cells by examining changes in gene expression.

Topic 5: Proteins – form and function
This topic explores how the structure of a protein defines its function. You’ll use the Protein Data Bank to explore the three-dimensional structure of proteins and continue your investigation into the effect of growth factor on gene expression by performing an immunoblot experiment.

Topic 6: Membranes, vesicles and cellular traffic
Here you will learn about the structure of cell membranes and how cells regulate the transport of different substances across them.

Topic 7 Cell signalling and communication:
This topic focuses on signalling between cells. In the final part of your investigation into the effect of the growth factor, you’ll monitor a specific cellular response. To do this, you’ll remotely access and collect data from a live cell experiment at our Milton Keynes campus.

Topic 8: Energy flow
In this topic, you’ll explore how the cells of different organisms exploit different energy sources to produce ATP, the vital form of chemical energy that drives cell processes.

Topic 9: Cell movements
Here you will learn about the role of the cytoskeleton in cell movement, from the internal movement of structures and organelles to cell migration and muscle contraction.

Topic 10: The life cycle of cells
This penultimate topic explores cell division, cell death and differentiation. You’ll learn to interpret flow cytometry data to study cell division.

Topic 11: Inheritance and genetic diversity
The final topic focuses on inheritance and the molecular mechanisms that underlie genetic diversity.

You will learn

As well as learning key cell biology concepts, you’ll develop your skills for further science study, including data interpretation, experimental investigation, numeracy, statistics, problem-solving, data-handling and presenting data, collaboration and communication.

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.

Assessment

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

Laboratory schools

The School of Life, Health and Chemical Sciences offers optional laboratory schools in Milton Keynes at an additional cost. Laboratory schools are not part of this module but may be of interest if you wish to gain relevant hands-on laboratory experience.

Further information and instructions for booking are on the SS022 website.

Future availability

Cell and molecular biology (S296) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2030.

Regulations

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)
End-of-module assessment


Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements for this module.

At The Open University, we believe education should be open to all, so we provide high-quality university education to anyone who wishes to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential.

Even though there are no entry requirements, you’ll need an appropriate knowledge of biology and appropriate study skills obtained through:

  • OU level 1 study
  • equivalent work at another higher education institution.

Are you ready for S296?

Preparatory work

We recommend you’ve completed:

You’ll be able to access the module website 2–3 weeks before the module starts, so you can learn to navigate the website and organise your study plan. A module primer contains the basic concepts you should understand. You can use this primer to refresh your knowledge before starting your studies or as a resource throughout.

Register

Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £1818.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

Register
This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2030.

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 receive a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

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 fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2025. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 24/07/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of not more than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

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

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

You’ll also have access to the OpenScience Laboratory, where you’ll conduct some of your experiments and perform a remote experiment.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

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 S296 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 pages.