Contemporary Biology Development

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This Course Guide has been taken from the most recent presentation of the course. It would be useful for reference purposes but please note that there may be updates for the following presentation.


Contemporary Biology Development

BIOL S401 Contemporary Development is a five-credit, one-semester course offered by the School of Science and Technology for the BSc Programme in the Bachelor of Science in Applied Science (Biology and Chemistry). BIOL S401 is a higher-level course for students majoring in biology and chemistry who wish to pursue the Honours Degree programme.

BIOL S401 Contemporary Biology Development covers a wide range of hot topics in the biological research field: from the structure of cells, to biochemical reactions and molecular genetics, to the cycle of living organisms and the mechanism of disease development. You will better appreciate current trends in the scientific world after gaining insights into contemporary scientific research and advances. This course covers cutting-edge articles and reviews that have received great attention locally and internationally.

This course also guides you in learning to appreciate the contemporary biological sciences by carrying out three steps: identifying, analysing and writing. The first step invites you to explore the current trends of biological research area or topics of interest using available databases, and helps you to identify and formulate a hypothesis for investigation. You will then extract and analyse useful information in order to better understand the method and rationale of experiments and articles. Finally, you will be able to generate a scientific article in your own area of interest in a professional manner using scientific language.

To identify, to analyse and to write are the means to help you to understand your areas of interest. This course opens up opportunities to help you to think critically in the contemporary biological field.

This course covers three main current research areas in biological sciences:

  • molecular and DNA technology: molecular cell biology and gene regulation;
  • life sciences and the study of diseases: cancer therapy, stem cell technologies, and neuroscience; and
  • the botanical aspect: genetically modified plants.

After completing the course, you will not only have attained a strong grasp of current biological research topics, but will also have broadened your knowledge and developed critical thinking skills in different scientific research areas.

BIOL S401 will be delivered in print mode, with support from the university's Online Learning Environment (OLE). Aside from the study units, journal articles and reviews are the principal sources of course materials. In each unit, readings are suggested to supplement and enhance your understanding. Tutorials and day schools further support different learning activities and communication between you and your tutor. Assignments and presentations provide a platform for practice and preparation for your course-end project.


The purpose of this Course Guide

This Course Guide gives you the overview of this course BIOL S401 and helps you to work through the materials. You will find the resources of information and support provided by HKMU to facilitate your learning, also the assessment procedures to evaluate your performance. Please carefully read through and refer to this document when needed.


Course aims

BIOL S401 Contemporary Biology Development aims to:

  • Introduce you to current hot research areas in biological science, molecular cell biology, life sciences and botanical sciences.
  • Develop your interest and ability to identify gaps in scientific reading, and to find useful and related materials on contemporary topics and your own areas of interest.
  • Encourage you to think critically about the ethical issues of scientific research.
  • Motivate you to continue self-education in biological sciences and to conduct your own literature search and look for research opportunities.
  • Introduce you to different available databases for their searches in contemporary biological development, and familiarize you with printed and electronic database searches.
  • Introduce you to different formats, structures and techniques in scientific writing.
  • Develop your skills in analysing and extracting information from reference articles, such as the background and rationale of studies.
  • Develop your planning and effective communication skills through written assignments and presentations in the language of science.

Course learning outcomes

Upon completion of this course, you should be able to:

  • Critically assess current research areas in biological sciences.
  • Illustrate the importance of the balance between ethics and biological research.
  • Construct meaningful questions to be answered in the biological sciences.
  • Plan and perform a literature search independently.
  • Identify and extract useful information from printed and electronic resources, and comment critically when reading articles.
  • Write a review article in an area of interest to you.
  • Review the requirements for an article to be published in a peer- reviewed journal.

There are five study units in this course; each unit covers a state-of-the- art subject. They are organized into three categories:

  1. molecular and DNA technology: molecular cell biology and gene regulation (Unit 1);
  2. life sciences and the study of diseases: cancer therapy, stem cell technologies, and neuroscience (Units 2–4); and
  3. the botanical aspect: genetically modified plants (Unit 5).

Each study unit will be broken down into a number of topics, each of which covers key concepts with elaboration of ideas and discussion in different sub-topics to ensure your understanding. We will study at least one contemporary review article in each unit to allow you to identify current trends, as well as the key concepts related to the corresponding topics. Apart from the printed materials and references, links to online resources and activities will be provided in each unit. Self-test questions and feedback will be provided for checking your understanding of the unit content.


Course materials

Study units

A brief description of each study unit is given below.


Unit 1 — Molecular cell biology and gene regulation

Molecular cell biology is a fundamental concept in the contemporary biological sciences. This unit briefly introduces molecular cell biology and gene regulation in eukaryotic cells to give you a solid foundation for your understanding of later units. This unit introduces various databases for the literature search and different writing formats. This unit aims to prepare you to perform searches in your areas of interest.


Unit 2 — Cancer therapy

Cancer is marked as uncontrolled cell growth that has undergone a series of chemical reactions or cell proliferation. This unit first covers the pathway of carcinogenesis and the environmental and genetic causes of cancer. It then focuses on introducing different types of cancer therapy and identifying new strategies in combating cancer. Finally, the possibility of cancer prevention will be discussed.


Unit 3 — Stem cell technologies

Stem cell research has aroused ethical concern in the research field and in society, especially stem cells harvested from human beings. Different sources of stem cells raise different issues. This unit first discusses types of stem cell source, followed by opportunities for research in this field. Finally, different ethical concerns related to stem cell research will be introduced, and hence we will address the importance of the balance between research and ethics.


Unit 4 — Neurosciences

Human intelligence is a continuum and is usually measured by psychometric testing. Neurosciences, on the other hand, help you to understand the biological bases of differences in intelligence. Recent developments in neuroscience technologies, genetics and molecular biology serve as the important tools for our understanding. This unit first describes the special features of the nervous systems on two levels, the cellular and molecular levels. It then outlines the structure and function of the central nervous system and how the neurons communicate with other cells. This unit ends with an appreciation of the difference in human intelligence from quantitative genetics and brain imaging studies.


Unit 5 — Genetically modified plants

The plant immune system responds to pathogenic and non-pathogenic biotic stresses, to protect the plant from environmental challenges. An understanding of the responses allows scientists to engineer disease- resistant plants. This modification can be adapted by the natural enemies as co-evolution. This unit first introduces plants' immune systems and their responses to biotic stresses. It then discusses how to genetically engineer the defense mechanisms, as well as the reason for genetically modified plants. Finally, Unit 5 covers the risks and benefits to plants including co-evolution of natural enemies.

The course also has other tools, including self-assessment questions, feedback, interactive activities, related problems and case studies to facilitate your learning.


Set textbook

As the course aims to introduce cutting-edge biological sciences research, we do not require you to buy a textbook.



The course provides a list of essential readings (mainly research articles and review articles) that are included with the study units and that serve as the major component of the course materials. The study units provide further guidance on reading, reviewing and information gathering from these references. The discussion helps to arouse your interest in different areas.


E-Library E-Reserve readings

You may be instructed to read articles in the E-Library E-Reserve. To read these items, go to the HKMU E-Library and click E-Reserve. Log in, click Accept/Agree on the Copyright Restrictions page, fill in the Course Code box, and click Search.




Katz, M J (2009) From Research to Manuscript: A Guide to Scientific Writing, 2nd edn, Springer.

Goldbort, R (2006) 'Scientific presentations' in Goldbort, R (ed.) Writing for Science, New Haven: Yale University Press.

Johnson, M D (2008) 'Cancer' in Human Biology: Concepts and Current Issues, San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings.

Kandel, E R, Schwartz, J J and Jessell, T M (2000) Principles of Neural Science, 4th edn, New York: McGraw-Hill, Health Professions Division.

Nelson, D L and Cox, M M (2008) Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry, 5th edn, New York: W H Freeman.

Rogers, S M (2007) Mastering Scientific and Medical Writing: A Self- help Guide, Berlin: Springer.

Yang, J T (1995) 'An outline of scientific writing [electronic resource]: For researchers with English as a foreign language', Singapore World Scientific.


Journal articles

Calne, R Y, Gan, S U and Lee, K O (2010) 'Stem cell and gene therapies for diabetes mellitus', Nat Rev Endocrinol, 6(3): 173–77.

Deary, I J, Penke, L and Johnson, W (2010) 'The neuroscience of human intelligence differences', Nat Rev Neurosci, 11(3): 201–11.

Ebert, A D and Svendsen, C N (2010) 'Human stem cells and drug screening: Opportunities and challenges', Nat Rev Drug Discov, 9(5): 367–72.

Harris, T J and McCormick, F (2010) 'The molecular pathology of cancer,' Nat Rev Clin Oncol, 7(5): 251–65.

Jones, J D and Dangl, J L (2006) 'The plant immune system', Nature, 444(7117): 323–29.

McLaren, A (2001) 'Ethical and social considerations of stem cell research', Nature, 414 (6859): 129–31.

Rausher, M D (2001) 'Co-evolution and plant resistance to natural enemies', Nature, 411(6839): 857–64.

Wolfenbarger, L L and Phifer, P R (2000) 'The ecological risks and benefits of genetically engineered plants', Science, 290(5499): 2088–93.


Online and multimedia materials

Online Learning Environment

BIOL S401 is supported by HKMU's Online Learning Environment (OLE). Reference articles and the latest course materials are uploaded to the OLE for easy access. You can also participate in a discussion board for communication between tutors and the Course Coordinator.


Other online resources and supplementary media

This course suggests a few programmes from free broadcasting websites, encouraging you to search for relevant and useful materials online:

Course overview

The following chart gives a general overview of the course structure.


Course componentTime allocation
Unit 1 Molecular cell biology and gene regulation5 (Wk 1–5) 
Unit 2 Cancer therapy 
Unit 3 Stem cell technologies 
Unit 4 Neurosciences 
Unit 5 Genetically modified plants 
Assignment3 (Wk 6–8)Assignment (all units)
Day school2 (Wk 9–10)Presentation (all units)
Course-end project4 (Wk 11–14)All units
  • Assignment: You are required to submit one assignment for the course. (For details, please refer to the 'Assessment' section.
  • Day school: You will present materials on your topics of interest to familiarize yourself with presentations in scientific meetings and evaluate your understanding of topics. (For details, please refer to the 'Assessment' section.)

Equipment requirements

You need to have at least the following equipment (IT resources) for the course.


  • Pentium III 800 MHz processor
  • 512 MB – 1 GB RAM
  • 1 GB of free disk space.


  • English Windows XP or more recent
  • Web browser: Firefox 2, Internet Explorer 6, or compatible equivalents.

BIOL S401 assesses your performance through one assignment, one day school session, and a course-end project (including a presentation and a written report). Continuous assessment and the project are the formal means of performance evaluation. The assignment and day school session account for 50% of the overall course score (OCS). The project submitted at the end of the course makes up the other 50% of OCS. You are required to obtain 40% or above in both the overall continuous assessment score (OCAS) and the course-end project to pass the course.


Assignments and day school

There is one assignment for the course. Tutors will return the marked assignment to you with their comments and feedback. For the compulsory day school session, you are required to make a presentation on your topics of interest to familiarize yourself with presentations in scientific meetings and evaluate your understanding of topics. The assignment and day school help you to prepare for the course-end project by testing your communication and thinking skills in scientific research.


Course-end project

The course-end project is an individual project to evaluate your overall understanding and performance in the course, consisting of a literature review in a form of written report and PowerPoint presentation slides. We allow you to select your topics among the five units (recommendations will be provided but the selection is not limited to those materials). The report will be completed in the specific format of a review article together with slides for presentation.

There will be no final examination for this course.

The assessment items are outlined in the following table.


AssessmentCourse area coveredWeighting 
AssignmentAll units35%Continuous assessment (50%)
Day school presentationAll units15%
Course-end project
Review article
PowerPoint slides
All units50% (Total)
Course-end project (50%)

This course provides face-to-face tutorials and electronic means of support to you, including a discussion board, email and the OLE.



There will be three two-hour tutorial sessions in the course. The tutorials comprise interactive learning and activities involving supplementary materials. The tutors will guide you in planning and completing your individual projects.



There will be a two-hour surgery session. You can also attend face-to- face consultations with the on-duty tutor who will address any course- related questions.


Day schools

One day school session (3 hours) will be allocated to evaluate your performance in the course.

You will deliver a presentation. Each presentation will be allocated 8–10 minutes followed by a 5-minute Q&A session. The assessment will be based on your presentation skills, content, time management, interaction with audience and your ability to answer the questions in the Q&A session. Peer evaluation will also be part of the assessment.


Electronic means

You can post your questions and problems through email and on the discussion board on the OLE to your assigned tutors and fellow classmates. You can communicate between classmates and tutors using these interactive channels. You can also check and obtain the latest course information by these means easily.

BIOL S401 Contemporary Biology Development is a five-credit, one- semester high level course that covers a wide range of hot topics in the biological research field, from the structure of cells to biochemical reactions and molecular genetics, to the cycle of living organisms and the mechanism of disease development. It will help you to appreciate current trends in the scientific world. This course provides you with the tools for continuing self-education and helps you develop critical thinking skills for article reading. Your initiative is a major component of this course, in that you will need to pursue updated information and appreciate the beauty of biological sciences in this world.

We hope you will enjoy the journey of BIOL S401 Contemporary Biology Development!

Tanya T W Chu, BSc, PhD, is a research associate in the Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, Faculty of Medicine, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She graduated with a BSc in Biochemistry from the University of Hong Kong and a PhD in Medical Sciences at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Dr Chu has been a listed Chinese medicine practitioner in Hong Kong since 2002. Dr Tanya Chu’s research interests include the pathophysiology of hypertension and the metabolic syndrome, and the clinical pharmacology of herbal and western medicines.