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Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment

Cell Biology - distance learning studies in Cytology

  • Complement studies in human health and fitness, horticulture, agriculture and wildlife.
  • Gain in-depth knowledge of chemical composition and processes; tissues, nucleus, organelles, cell signalling, tissues and more.
  • Learn about how living things work at a cellular level.
  • Understand the fundamentals of biology before studying a specialism.

The word cell is derived from the Latin “cella” which means “small room”. Cells are the units from which all living organisms are built. Some organisms (e.g. bacteria) have only one cell in the entire organism. Others are multi-cellular. A human body can contain an estimated 100,000 billion cells.  Each cell is a self-contained and partially self-sufficient compartment designed to carry out a limited series of functions. While the structure and function of cells is extremely variable, their basic structure is similar. All cells are bound by an outer membrane and contain cytoplasm and DNA.

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Study the biology of cells

  • Learn about cell structure and processes including cell division and gene expression.
  • Feel confident using biological terminology.
  • Extend your knowledge to plant and animal cells.

All known living organisms are composed of one or more cells. Cells are the units from which all living organisms are built. Some organisms (e.g. bacteria) have only one cell in the entire organism. Others are multi-cellular.

In this course, you will learn about the basic units of life, of how each cell is a self-contained and partially self-sufficient compartment designed to carry out a limited series of functions.

This course is suitable for

Open the door to a career in -

  • Health sciences
  • Plant sciences
  • General biology
  • Biochemistry.

An introductory yet challenging course designed for everyone wanting to learn more about biology.

Course Structure and Lesson Content

This course contains 10 lessons as follows:

Lesson 1. Introduction to Cells and Their Structure
  • History of cell biology
  • Prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells
  • Cell shape and size
  • Cell structure
  • The nucleus including the nucleolus, euchromatin and heterochromatin
  • Differences in animal and plant cells
Lesson 2. Cell Chemistry
  • Cell chemical composition
  • Carbohydrates
  • Lipids
  • Nucleic acids
  • Proteins
  • Enzymes
  • Cell membranes
  • Golgi apparatus
Lesson 3. DNA, Chromosomes and Genes
  • DNA, Chromosomes, Genes
  • DNA replication
  • Telomeres and telomerase
  • Genetics
  • Case study in genetic inheritance
  • Phenotype and genotype
  • Gene mutations.
Lesson 4. Cell Division: Meiosis and Mitosis
  • Mitosis
  • Meiosis
Lesson 5. Cell Membranes
  • Structure of cell membranes
  • Movement of molecules through cell membranes
  • Endocytosis
  • Osmosis and filtration
  • Hydrostatic pressure
  • Active transport
  • Electro-chemical gradient
  • Nutrient and waste exchange in animal cells
  • Mediated and non-mediated transport
Lesson 6. Protein Structure and Function
  • Protein structure
  • Fibrous proteins
  • Globular proteins
  • Protein organisation
  • Primary to quaternary structure
  • Protein function
Lesson 7. Protein Synthesis
  • The function of ribonucleic acid in protein synthesis
  • Transcription and translation
  • Initiation
  • Elongation
  • Termination
Lesson 8. Food, Energy, Catalysis and Biosynthesis
  • Sources of energy
  • Metabolism within the cell
  • Catabolic metabolism
  • Anabolic metabolism
  • ATP movement
  • Kreb's cycle
  • Production and storage of energy
  • Energy production pathways from different foods
  • Biosynthesis of cell molecules
  • Mitochrondria
  • Chloroplasts
Lesson 9. Intracellular Compartments, Transport and Cell Communication
  • Cell communication
  • Endocrine signalling
  • Paracrine signalling
  • Autocrine signalling
  • Cytoskeleton
  • Actin filaments
  • Intermediate filaments
  • Microtubules
Lesson 10. The Cell Cycle and Tissue Formation
  • The cell cycle
  • Phases of the cell cycle
  • Cell cycle regulation
  • Cell death
  • Cells to bodies
  • Stem cells
  • Animal tissues including muscle, connective, epithelial, nerve, blood

Course Aims

  • Review basic cell structure and discuss the scope and nature of cell biology.
  • Describe the chemical components and processes of cells.
  • Describe the storage of genetic information within cells and how this information is passed on to the next generation.
  • Describe key concepts in molecular biology.
  • Discuss membrane structure and transport across cell membranes.
  • Discuss protein structure and function.
  • Describe and discuss protein synthesis.
  • Describe the significant processes involved in transfer and storage of energy in a cell.
  • Describe the significant processes that occur in cell communication and intracellular transport.
  • Describe the life cycle of cells and how they combine to create different types of tissues.

Genes Drive the Function of Cells

A gene may be defined as a section of DNA that controls a hereditary characteristic.

  • The strands of DNA that can be found in chromosomes contain many genes.
  • Genes are responsible for passing the characteristics of a plant or animal from the parents to the offspring (from one generation to the next).
  • Each sequence of DNA sequence that codes for a specific protein or RNA is called a gene.
  • Genes may vary in size from 1,000 to 1,000 000 base pairs.
  • The human genome contains between 20,000 - 25,000 protein coding genes.
  • The haploid (half the normal chromosomes) human genome occupies 3 billion DNA base pairs.

The cell nuclei of all plants and animals carry hundreds or thousands of genes that control all the aspects of the plant or animals, but each gene controls only one particular factor. For example, Aberdeen Angus cattle all carry a gene that gives their black coat colour. They have no gene for white coats because a pure bred Angus has no white on its coat. In the same way, Hereford cattle all carry a gene for red coat and a white face but no gene for a black coat.

Generally speaking the more complex the animal the larger the number of genes to code for it.  However this is not always the case, humans have approximately 20,000 – 25,000 genes while the black cottonwood tree contains over 45,000 and fruit flies have 14,000.

Aside from all the useful genes carried in DNA, there is also a great deal of what appears to be useless DNA that does not carry information.  This is referred to as Junk DNA and there is disagreement about whether it is useful or not.  Other sections of DNA that do not code for proteins are called Introns.  Introns are sections of DNA that are transcribed to various types of RNA.  During the process to mature RNA, the introns are ‘spliced’ out.

DNA Replication

The nature of the base pairing which creates two antiparallel strands (opposite polarity) which are complementary, ensures that the DNA can be replicated with astounding accuracy.    Each strand can produce an exact copy of its partner, thus a cell can replicate it’s DNA before replicating.  As each strand replicates its partner strand, each daughter DNA is complete with one parent strand and a new one.  Hence this is known as semiconservative replication.

The unique double helix allows DNA to accurately replicate itself.  In order to do this, the helix can unzip down the middle creating two strands of DNA.    Where the split starts is known as the ‘origin of replication’ or ‘replication origins’ or simply ‘origins’ in both eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells. The origins are marked by certain sequence of nucleotides which attract the initiator proteins.  The sequence is usually rich in A-T base pairs as they contain less hydrogen bonds and therefore require less energy to split. As the initiator proteins attract other proteins to assist, the resulting separated DNA forms a bubble in the chain.  As replicated continues the DNA chain continues to unwind creating a replication fork.

This DNA fork comprises of two strands: the parent 3’ – 5’ and the parent 5’ -3’.  The daughter strand that forms on the parent templates are referred to as the leading strand (forms on the 5’ -3’) and the lagging strand (forms on the 3’ – 5’). These strands are read in different directions.   The leading strand is replicated with the help of DNA polymerase which is an enzyme that finds the correct base pairs and then binds them to the DNA. DNA polymerase does this continuously. 

DNA polymerase is extremely accurate in replication, in fact far more so that can be accounted for by the simplicity and stability of base pairs.  DNA polymerase is able to proofread and correct mistakes by checking if the previously added nucleotide is correctly paired to the template strand, if it is not correct DNA polymerase will remove the offending nucleotide by severing the phosphate bond and start adding a new nucleotide again.  This proof reading mechanism is the reason the DNA polymerase can only create DNA in the  5’ – 3’ direction and not the other because in the 3’ – 5’ direction it works as a exonuclease by degrading the phosphodiester bond.

The enzyme RNA Primase is bound at the initiation point.  RNA Primase attracts RNA nucleotides which can bind nucleotides to the 3’-5’ parent strand.  The RNA nucleotides function as ‘primers’ for the DNA nucleotides.  The enzyme helicase is responsible for splitting the two strands by breaking the hydrogen bonds.

The lagging strand however is formed in fragments as the DNA polymerase cannot work in the 3’ – 5’ direction.  To get around this RNA Primase adds more RNA primers which DNA polymerase can read.  These fragments between the primers are called Okazaki fragments.   Other enzymes can act degrade the RNA and act as exonucleases which can remove the RNA primers.  The remaining gaps are filled in by DNA polymerase and DNA Ligase which adds the necessary phosphate to form the phosphate –sugar backbone.

Replication is essential and occurs before cell division to ensure that each daughter cell has the same genetic information as the parent cell.  DNA replication is conversely regulated by the cell cycle in eukaryotes.

Why Learn About Cell Biology?

Research and knowledge of cell biology plays an important part in many areas of life, including:

  • Scientists study the biology of cells in order to develop new vaccines and medicines.
  • Knowledge of an individuals genetic make-up can be used to adopt a preventative approach to improving their health.
  • Studies in cell biology are used to develop plants and crops with improved or enhanced qualities in particular areas (such as resistance to disease).
  • Forensic scientists use cell biology as part of the process to solving crimes.

Our Students Say

"The course was better than I expected. I am studying a Bachelor of Health Science next year at university. I gained far more knowledge from this course than I expected."

Start Studying by Distance Learning at Anytime

Our courses are all studied by distance learning and you can enrol on them at any time. They have been developed and are delivered by highly knowledgeable experts.

All students receive personalised feedback on their work from our tutors, and are able to contact them throughout the course if they have any questions or need further guidance.

If you are interested in pursuing a science career, for example in areas such as medical science or forensics, this course offers a great opportunity to gain a foundation of knowledge in cell biology. If you have any questions about the course or would like to know more, then please get in touch using our Free Course Counselling Service - our specialist Science tutors will be pleased to help you.

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Meet some of our academics

Dr Lynette Morgan (Horticulture)Lyn worked with Rivendell Mushroom Farm between 1986 and 88; and then as a research assistant and technician for a few years while undertaking university studies. In 1991 she graduated from Massey University with a Bachelor of Horticultural Science (Hons) which covered broad horticultural sciences, as well as nursery vegetable and fruit production. Throughout the 90's she worked in both the nursery industry and horticultural crop production, before establishing her own business "Suntec" which has built an exceptional international reputation providing consulting services; particularly in hydroponic crop production. Dr Morgan has a broad expertise in horticulture and crop production, and a keen appreciation of the global scene. She travels widely as a partner in Suntec Horticultural Consultants, and has clients in central America, the USA, Caribbean, South East Asia, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand.
Dr Robert Browne (Environmental)Robert has an outstanding international reputation in Conservation, Environmental Management and Animal Science, having extensive experience across Europe, Australia, North America and central America. He has decades of experience working across subjects ranging from biodiversity and Wetland Ecology to Reptile Ecology and Animal Breeding. Zoologist, Environmental. He holds a B.Sc.(Hons) from the University of Tasmania and a Ph.D. from the University of Newcastle. In recent years he has worked with Ghent University in the Netherlands, Antwerp University in Belgium, Perth Zoo in Australia and on a major sustainability project in Belize. Robert is a widely published research scientist and a referee for more than a dozen internationally renowned scientific journals. Robert brings a very comprehensive a unique experience to the school and provides our students an opportunity to learn from one of the worlds leading environmental and wildlife scientists.
Yvonne Sharpe (Horticulturist)Started gardening in 1966, studied a series of horticulture qualifications throughout the 1980's and 90's, culminating in an RHS Master of Horticulture. Between 89 and 1994, she worked teaching in horticultural therapy. Founded the West Herts Garden Association in 1990 and exhibited at Chelsea Flower Show in 1991. In 1994, Yvonne joined the staff at Oaklands College, and between 1996 and 2000 was coordinator for all Amenity Horticulture courses at that college. Since leaving Oakland she has been active as a horticultural consultant, retail garden centre proprietor and sessional lecturer (across many colleges in southern England). In 2000, she also completed a Diploma in Management.

Check out our eBooks

Animal HealthUnderstand animal health issues, diseases and how identify and manage illnesses and injuries. Animals can become sick for many different reasons -diseases caused by infections, injuries, poisoning, genetic disorders, poor nutrition and other things.
Human BiologyFor any new student of human biology, being confronted with thousands of unfamiliar words can be overwhelming. It can also be difficult to identify which words you need to learn first. This book presents words that have been carefully selected as the most important for new biology students to learn and understand. It also provides more information about each word than is often found in traditional dictionaries, giving students a more in-depth understanding of the word's meaning. The book is intended as an aid to all new students of human biology.
Nutritional TherapyDiscover how the way you eat can impact upon the affects of an illness. This book is unique, written by our health and nutritional scientists. Chapters cover: “Scope and Nature of Nutritional Therapy”, “How different factors Interact with Nutrition”, “Different Ways” and “Appropriate Therapeutic Responses for Different Health Issues” Thirty different conditions are covered from Mental Illness and Gastritis to Coeliac Disease and Osteoporosis.
Plant Pests & DiseasesAre you one of those people that kill every plant you touch? Perhaps it's not you. Perhaps it's a pest or disease. A little bit of reading might just turn your garden into an oasis. Learn how to identify pests and diseases and bring the spring back into your plant...visit the bookshop to find out more...