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Cell and molecular biology

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
2 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
End-of-module assessment