Skip to navigation | Skip to main content | Skip to footer

University College for Interdisciplinary Learning

Current Topics in Biology

Course Unit Code

UCIL20882 (10 Credits)

UCIL20892 (20 Credits)

Course Unit Details

  • Level 2
  • Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health


Entertainment or news media frequently sensationalise biological and biomedical stories, either oversimplifying the topic or through inaccurate reporting ('Spicy diet can beat dementia' anybody?).

This unit considers topical issues within biology, exploring the science behind the headlines to help you develop an informed opinion, and to discuss potential future directions of selected topics.

Topics will include:

  • The basics of DNA and beyond
  • Development and stem cells
  • Precision medicine
  • Human brain function
  • Microbes and infectious disease
  • Conservation biology

If you have an interest in life sciences, but haven't had the opportunity to study it at a higher level, then this is the unit for you. You will work alongside students from a wide range of disciplines.


The aim of this unit is to introduce you to topical areas of bioscience, building from basic knowledge towards engaging with current research literature.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, you will be able to:

  • Describe and evaluate the basic science underpinning current topical issues in the biological sciences
  • Debate and defend informed opinions about current biology issues, including their impact on society
  • Work collaboratively in an interdisciplinary team to investigate and present an aspect of bioscience research

In addition, for 20 credits:

  • Prepare written communications aimed at both scientific and non-technical/public audiences


Topics covered in previous years:

  • The basics of DNA...and beyond: what have we learnt from sequencing the human genome?
  • Development and Stem Cells: How does the fertilised egg become a fully formed adult body? What are stem cells and what are their potential medical uses?
  • Precision Medicine: Tailoring drug treatments for individuals. Why do some patients respond better than others to the same treatment?
  • The Human Brain: How do nerve cells communicate? Understanding neurological disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's
  • Microbes and Infectious Disease: What issues are the most pressing for microbiologists today? Understanding flu, superbugs (MRSA) and sexually-transmitted diseases. Just how important are our gut bacteria?
  • Conservation Biology: What is biodiversity, can we protect it and why should we care? Should we worry about invasive species?


10 Credits

  1. Short note exam (40%)
  2. Coursework assignment from a choice of activities (either a short, two-page essay relating your degree discipline with one of our topics OR taking a media story and sourcing related research papers) (40%)
  3. Group activity (creating a 3 minute video showcasing current research on one topic) (20%)

20 Credits

  1. Short note exam (20%)
  2. 4 x coursework assignments from a choice of activities (either a short, two-page essay relating your degree discipline with one of our topics OR taking media stories and sourcing related research papers OR developing a learning resource to help explain a difficult concept) (70%)
  3. Group activity (creating a 3 minute video showcasing current research on one topic) (10%)


Students from the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, with the exception of Psychology, are not eligible to take this unit.

UCIL units are designed to be accessible to undergraduate students from all disciplines.

UCIL units are credit-bearing and it is not possible to audit UCIL units or take them for additional/extra credits. You must enrol following the standard procedure for your School when adding units outside of your home School.

If you are not sure if you are able to enrol on UCIL units you should contact your School Undergraduate office. You may wish to contact your programme director if your programme does not currently allow you to take a UCIL unit.

You can also contact the UCIL office if you have any questions.

Teaching Staff

Ruth Grady, Maggy Fostier, Susan Cochran and Bipasha Choudhury

Teaching and Learning Methods

This unit is delivered face-to-face.

  • 18 x 1 hour (lectures and seminars; a mixture of in-person lectures and pre-recorded material)
  • 2 x 1 hour information sessions including assessment preparation
  • 1 x 1 hour video presentation
  • Group project
The delivery of this unit has been thoroughly engaging and it covered such a broad range of topics at an accessible level. I have been really impressed and wanted to recognise the staff's brilliant efforts and thank the department for the opportunity to study this topic outside of my degree.Meah Worsencroft, English Literature and American Studies

Contact us

Connect with us

  • Facebook icon
  • Twitter icon
  • Instagram icon