School of Biological and Marine Sciences

BSc (Hons) Biological Sciences

Are you passionate about biology in all of its forms? Do you want to study a broad biology degree without the constraints of choosing a specialism too soon, with equal emphasis on lab and field skills? You will build an understanding of biology from viruses to mammals and from freshwater to hydrothermal vents, gaining state-of-the-art practical and transferable skills highly sought by employers, graduating ready to shape the future of fields from ecosystem management to laboratory research.

In the 2016 National Student Survey, 95% of students felt staff on this course were good at explaining things; 95% felt that the staff made the subject interesting; 86% found the course intellectually stimulating and 91% were satisfied with the course overall. This programme focuses on biology of a wide range of environments from soils and the oceans to hydrothermal vents and volcanic lakes.

The wings of butterflies are composed of tiny scales. Black areas are pigmented with melanin, but red, green and blue are caused by microscopic layers of chitin that diffract light giving the appearance of colour. This is known as structural colouration.

Key features

  • In the 2016 National Student Survey, 95% of students felt staff on this course were good at explaining things; 95% felt that the staff made the subject interesting; 86% found the course intellectually stimulating and 91% were satisfied with the course overall.
  • Study the whole spectrum of contemporary biology, on a course consistently praised externally for its outstanding teaching quality and well-constructed programme.
  • Gain theoretical and practical skills in the laboratory and dig deeper into the interplay between biology and real life so you'll graduate with the skills to immediately enter the world of work.
  • Learn on location, through an intensive residential field trip to the Azores (price included in your tuition fees).
  • Experience practical biology in the real world with an optional work placement between your second and final year.
  • Build the knowledge, skills and practical awareness for a variety of careers.
  • Work with your personal and course tutors to develop key graduate skills to boost your employability.
  • Keep pace with the ever changing discoveries, insights and thinking in ecology, biodiversity, cell biology, animal behaviour and physiology.
  • Be inspired by staff who are leading the way in their subjects, carrying out research that turns heads worldwide. 
  • Boost your practical skills using our specialised facilities including controlled environment chambers, experimental glasshouses, and an electron microscopy unit.

Course details

  • Year 1
  • In your first year, you will obtain a strong foundation across the spectrum of the biological sciences. You will begin with an intensive 4 week induction module through which you will obtain key skills in use of the scientific literature, data analysis and interpretation, academic writing and presenting and communicating your findings in both written and oral formats. You will then study cell biology, microbiology and the physiology of animals and plants, whilst furthering your transferable skills. You will undertake laboratory based practicals in a range of different areas that underpin and complement your lecture-based learning. You will undertake a field biology module at Slapton in South Devon (a residential field course included in your tuition fees), during which you will study natural history and taxonomy of wild animals and plants, whilst learning to design and carry out experimental work in the field.
    Core modules
    • BIOL129 Professional Development in Biological Sciences 1

      Skills in fieldwork, e.g. in identification, or in the laboratory, e.g. in liquid handling, are an important aspect of any biology degree, and can contribute to the employability of graduates. The purpose of this module is to track the progressive acquisition of a range of basic field, laboratory and transferable skills of relevance to each degree programme, and delivered in the other Level 4 modules.

    • BIOL130 Biological Sciences Field Biology

      This module provides an introduction to the natural history, taxonomy, identification and sampling methods for the major groups of organisms with opportunities to explore and test hypotheses based on these concepts in the field and lab.

    • BIOL119 Introduction to Biology

      This module is designed to give you some fundamental basic skills and information to help you start to become an independent biologist. The module will cover data and information gathering, analysis, evaluation and presentation. Much of the module will be based around field/lab activities providing you with data for analysis and presentation.

    • BIOL127 Evolution

      This module introduces students to the core concepts of evolution, from the basic structure and inheritance function of DNA, to other units of change, from genome to individual to population to species and other taxonomic groupings. The latter part of the module explores the patterns of biodiversity that evolutionary processes have given rise to, from both historical and extant perspectives.

    • BIOL111 Animal and Plant Physiology

      This module is an introduction to the fundamental principles of comparative physiology, and the structure and function of the body systems of plants as well as animals. The module also introduces the concept of environmental physiology; how organisms respond to their environment.

    • BIOL120 Cell Biology and Microbiology

      This module introduces the fundamentals and principles of cell biology. The second part explores the ecophysiology and importance of microbes in the living world, including their role in global processes and interactions with other organisms.

    Optional modules
    • BIOL124PP Biology of Sex

      This module will introduce you to the following topics; the evolution of sex, competition for mates, sperm competition, mate choice, sex & disease and other elements of the biology of sex. Each week will start with a discussion of the main areas of exciting research on that topic, across a range of species including humans. Students will then develop their learning in supervised workshops.

    • BIOL125PP Scientific Method and Ethics in Biology

      This module explores how modern scientific research is conducted; the importance of professional ethics in science, based on principles of rigour, respect and responsibility; the essential elements of effective science communication; and the development of critical scientific thinking involving graphical, numerical and statistical approaches. It includes examples of reliable (`good') and unreliable (`bad') science.

    • BHCS1004PP Introduction to Human Pathology

      This cross-disciplinary module provides the learner with an introduction to the study of human disease, exploring historical, social and scientific perspectives as well as an opportunity to explore how modern pathology services are structured and operated.

  • Year 2
  • In your second year, you’ll build on your growing knowledge of physiology, plant biology, microbiology and the methods and techniques of biological science. You will undertake a team-based microbiology research project through which you will gain core transferable skills in team work and working with new people alongside core research and bench skills. You will customise your studies through optional modules in ecology and the molecular basis of disease. A key part of your second year is a residential field trip to the Azores - included in your tuition fees - which takes place in late August or early September just before your second year start. During this course you will study life in extreme environments at geothermal springs and volcanic lakes and will undertake ecological studies of invasive and endemic species in the broad range of unique ecosystems that the Azores offers.

    You can alternatively undertake your second year at one of a selection of overseas universities through our Year Abroad scheme. When you return, you will go straight into your final year, so you degree still takes 3 years overall.

    Core modules
    • BIOL226 Animal Ecophysiology

      We will investigate the life history and associated normal physiological processes in animals and examine how the environment, including pathogens, affect development, survival and reproduction of animals.

    • BIOL213 Methods in Biological Sciences

      This module equips students to carry out a range of laboratory and field studies in biological sciences using appropriate methods, and taking into account health and safety through risk assessment. It includes a residential field course which incorporates both laboratory and field work. Students also learn approaches to experimental design, and data handling and analysis.

    • BIOL211 Microbial Physiology and Biochemistry

      Diversity, lifestyles, taxonomy and physiology of organisms within the Bacteria and the Archaea, as well as training students in key research and transferable skills through an intensive team laboratory research project. The module focuses on recent developments in microbiology and is highly research-oriented, looking primarily at terrestrial, freshwater, plant and animal host-associated organisms.

    • BIOL212 Environmental Cell Physiology

      Organisms are affected by environmental factors that ultimately induce changes at the molecular and cellular level. This module looks at cellular responses to environmental factors including oxidative stress, hypoxia, exposure to xenobiotics and seasonality. Changes during hibernation/aestivation and development, and induced by semiochemicals are examined, as well as underlying differences in cell physiology.

    • BIOL217 Environmental Plant Physiology

      This module looks at plant-environment interactions in specific habitats, including those affected by human activity. In all cases the challenges associated with the particular environment or biotic interactions are examined as well as the stress responses which may occur in the plants growing there. The features of plants which are well adapted to exploit the opportunities provided by particular habitats are explored.

    Optional modules
    • BIOL214 Ecology

      An understanding of basic concepts is needed to solve ecological problems. This module explores key concepts in ecology at the levels of individuals, populations and communities. The concepts are supported with examples taken from terrestrial and aquatic systems, and provide a useful insight into the search for general theories in ecology.

    • BIOL210 Molecular and Genetic Basis of Disease

      Human disease is influenced by a range of genetic and environmental factors. This module explores some of these factors at the molecular and cellular level, using a range of diseases, from single-gene disorders (in-born errors in metabolism) through to multifactorial, multigene disorders such as cancer, as examples. A range of practical approaches to the study and diagnosis of disease is also covered.

  • Optional placement year
  • Many of our students carry out an optional placement year between their second and final years. You can undertake either two 3 month work placements or one 6 month placement, though many of our students opt to spent up to 12 months at their placement provider. You will be supported by a Placement Adviser - a member of academic staff from the School - who will act as your point of contact with the University. Examples of placement providers that our students have been based at in the past  have been highly diverse, from nature reserves and bird sanctuaries to Aarhus University, Denmark, undertaking research in cold-loving iron-reducing bacteria, including fieldwork to the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Circle.

    Given the opportunities a Placement Year gives and the positive impact it brings to employability, we strongly encourage all students to give serious consideration to undertaking a Placement Year.
    Core modules
    • APIE303 Biology:Placement

      This module provides an opportunity for professional training of at least 26 weeks duration with an approved company or host organisation between Stage 2 and 4. While on placement, students will gain work experience related to their degree programme, be able to apply their biological knowledge and expertise, and learn further skills and relevant techniques.

  • Final year
  • In your final year of study, you will study from a range of optional modules, allowing you to specialise in plant biotechnology, environmental microbiology, global change biology, bioprospecting, animal nutrition, animal and society and eco toxicology. You will also study our Advanced Skills and Concepts module, within which you will select three 'podules', allowing you to specialise in key practical-focused areas that have been developed to give you industry-relevant skills not typically found within undergraduate programmes. In common with all honours degrees in the UK, a major part of your final year is your research project, in which you will apply the skills and understanding you have developed through your studies to a piece of research, supervised by a member of academic staff

    Core modules
    • BIOL315 Personal Research

      The largest component of the module comprises a research study element that incorporates the design, collection, analysis and interpretation of data. Other elements include a conduct of study component and a communicating science element. Students will also complete a comprehensive introduction to the research report that incorporates a brief literature review of the topic that addresses wider issues of relevance to their field of research study.

    • BIOL307 Advanced Skills and Concepts

      Students will select from a catalogue of short, intensive courses relating to biology, developing skills and concepts to an advanced level. The courses offered will be focused on developing the students¿ skills sets and career aspirations, enhancing student employability.

    • BIOL311 Ecotoxicology

      This module provides a detailed analysis of the concepts and principles of ecotoxicology, with an emphasis on evaluation of ecotoxicological techniques and methods for assessment of impacts of pollutants on the aquatic environment.

    Optional modules
    • BIOL301 Plant Biotechnology

      Despite the increasing importance of 'food security' in a changing world, plant biotechnology has had much negative publicity. This module will give students an appreciation of the science and also the ethical and social issues that surround the subject and show why these techniques are so important to secure our food supply.

    • BIOL310 Global Change Biology

      This module provides the student with an in-depth overview of the likely consequences of climate change for plant and animal species biology and distribution over the coming century. From this starting point we will show how an understanding of climate change biology is vital for conservation theory and practice over coming decades.

    • BIOL320 Animal Nutrition

      This module examines the principles and practice of animal nutrition for a range of animal species. It provides an understanding of feds, feed evaluation, diet formulation and feeding. The module also examines the impact of ingredient, physical, manufacturing and legal constraints on the production of diets.

    • BIOL3313 Environmental Microbiology and Biotechnology

      Explores the many important activities of micro-organisms in a range of environments and aspects of their metabolic processes. For each activity and process covered, the parallel subject of biotechnological exploitation will be explored, drawing entirely from real-world examples of microbial biotechnology, linking back to the underpinning theory.

    • BIOL321 Pharmacology and Natural Products

      Natural products (NPs) from diverse sources are used by humans including many compounds that affect organisms at cellular and molecular levels. This module will give you an understanding of the generalised mechanism of action of such compounds, their synthesis and an overview of specific compounds, their actions and uses from an array of biological sources and in a number of clinical and industrial contexts.

Every undergraduate taught course has a detailed programme specification document describing the course aims, the course structure, the teaching and learning methods, the learning outcomes and the rules of assessment.

The following programme specification represents the latest course structure and may be subject to change:

BSc Biological Sciences Programme Specification September 2017 0004

The modules shown for this course are those currently being studied by our students, or are proposed new modules. Please note that programme structures and individual modules are subject to amendment from time to time as part of the University’s curriculum enrichment programme and in line with changes in the University’s policies and requirements.

Entry requirements

UCAS tariff

112 - 128

Please note that we do interview some applicants for this programme, at the Admissions Tutor's discretion.

112-128 points, to include grade B in A level Biology and a C in a second science (Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Geography or Geology). For candidates that do not have a second science subject at A level, please contact: admissions@plymouth.ac.uk

18 Unit BTEC National Diploma/QCF Extended Diploma in Applied Science: 128-144 points (DDM-DDD) - note that this is subject to the exact modules you have studied - please contact admissions@plymouth.ac.uk, stating explicitly the full list of modules within your qualification.

International Baccalaureate 30 diploma points overall, to include 5 diploma points in Biology (Higher Level) plus 5 diploma points in second science at Higher Level. English and Mathematics must be included.

Science-based Access To Higher Education diplomas, 33 credits in science-based units at merit including a minimum of 12 credits in biology units. We would usually expect GCSE English and Mathematics at grade C, or equivalent.

For a full list of all acceptable qualifications please refer to our tariff glossary.

English language requirements

For candidates that do not have traditional qualifications, our BSc (Hons) Biology with Foundation Year programme provides a route onto this degree. 

Fees, costs and funding

New Student 2016 2017
Home/EU Check with School ​£9,250
International Check with School £12,500
Part time (Home/EU) Check with School Check with School
Part time (International) Check with School Check with School
Full time fees shown are per annum. Part time fees shown are per a number of credits. Fees are correct at the time of publication and may be subject to change.

How to apply

All applications for undergraduate courses are made through UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). 

UCAS will ask for the information contained in the box at the top of this course page including the UCAS course code and the institution code. 

To apply for this course and for more information about submitting an application including application deadline dates, please visit the UCAS website.

Support is also available to overseas students applying to the University from our International Office via our how to apply webpage or email international-admissions@plymouth.ac.uk.



Undergraduate study in the School of Biological Sciences

Watch and find out more about studying in the School of Biological Sciences at Plymouth.

Potential High Achievers Scheme

In the School of Biological and Marine Sciences we are passionate and committed to both teaching and research and we are looking for talented and motivated students to share in this passion for biology in all its forms. We know that our applicants will thrive in the hands-on environment we can provide, and we want to ensure our best applicants become our future.

The scheme is now open for students who have applied to study, from September 2017, a range of full-time undergraduate courses across the biological sciences subject areas. We will be contacting applicants who are not only on course to achieve top marks but who have an outstanding personal statement, in order to offer them a chance to receive an unconditional offer immediately.

Find out more about the scheme.