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Cell biology

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Cell biology explores the fascinating and diverse world of cells, from single-celled micro-organisms to the specialised cells that form complex tissues in plants and animals. It develops the key aspects of cell and molecular biology introduced in Questions in Science (S111), Science: concepts and practice (S112) and Science and health: an evidence-based approach (SDK100). It explores the origins of cells and the generation of cell diversity, as well as the common features of cellular structure and function – how they obtain energy, synthesise new molecules, communicate, proliferate and survive. There is an emphasis on the fundamental importance of cell biology in modern science, particularly in relation to cell technologies and health.

What you will study

The module is structured as three blocks, each comprising a printed book and supporting multimedia, including video, animations and interactive activities, all delivered via a website.

The first block, Generating Diversity, begins with a discussion of current theories about the origins and evolution of cells, and an exploration of the diversity seen among modern day cells. You will then look in detail at the subcellular structures where essential cell processes take place. You’ll also be introduced to genetics; how characteristics are inherited, and how the information in a cell’s genome directs and controls the synthesis of thousands of different proteins, the versatile molecules that form much of the cell’s structure and perform many of its functions.

In the second block, Working Cells, you will consider in more detail the molecular and structural basis for many of the biochemical activities that are common to all cells: the structure and function of proteins; the role of cell membranes; transport of substances into and out of cells and between different parts of the cell; how cells capture and use energy; and how cells transmit, receive and respond to signals from their environment.

The final block, Challenging Cells starts by exploring the life and death of cells with reference to disease and other abnormal processes – how cells proliferate, age and die, and the mechanisms that allow cells in a complex organism to diversify into different specialised forms. Through a series of brief case studies you will look at the application of cell and molecular biology to health science and biotechnology. These include topics related to gene technology, stem cell technology, novel antimicrobial agents and microbial fuel cells.

By the end of the module you will be able to:

  • demonstrate a broad understanding of fundamental concepts, principles and theories relating to cell biology, genetics and microbiology
  • appreciate that our knowledge of complex cellular functions is based on observation and experiment
  • appreciate the importance of cell biology in modern technologies and medicine.

The module also develops key skills including data interpretation, collaborative working and accessing and reading articles on cell biology.

Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements to study this module.

However, this is an OU Level 2 module, so you’ll need study skills appropriate for this level of science study, obtained either by OU Level 1 study or by equivalent study with another higher education institution. You’re likely to find parts of this module difficult if you have no knowledge of biology.

We recommend you’ve studied one of our key introductory OU Level 1 modules:

  • Questions in science (S111)
  • Science: concepts and practice (S112)
  • Science and health (SDK100)
  • or the discontinued modules S104 or SDK125

Our booklet Are you ready for S294? will help you find out whether or not you’re ready to study this module.

If you’re still not sure you’re ready, talk to an adviser.

What's included

Three printed books. Study guide, activities, glossary, assignments, forums and other resources all provided via a dedicated website.

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). Any macOS is unsuitable with this module.

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.

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.

The first three TMAs will focus strongly on learning through practice and the feedback you receive on your answers will help you to improve your knowledge and understanding of the study material and to develop important skills associated with the module, as well as prepare you for the written examination. The final TMA and the examination will contribute to your overall score for the module and assess key skills developed in the module as well as knowledge and understanding of the core topics.

Residential school

We usually offer an optional 4-day laboratory school in Milton Keynes - Laboratory skills in biology and health (SS022).

The optional laboratory school would come at an additional cost. However, we’re not yet able to confirm if this face-to-face event will be offered to students starting in October 2022. The most recent additional cost was £235.

We will update this page as soon as we have more information.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S294 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Cell biology (S294) 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.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

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