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Reproductive Biology

Module titleReproductive Biology
Module codeBIO3132
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Professor David Hosken (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Sperm are the quintessential reproductive cell and the most diverse of all cells and yet their function is seemingly simple – to carry a male’s genes to the egg. During this module you will investigate a range of reproductive phenomenon including the bizarre and extreme variation in sperm form and reproduction will serve as a vehicle to investigate a range of biological and societal phenomena, from inbreeding to assisted reproductive technology.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The biology of reproduction is an area of increasing research. For example, sperm cells display an incredible diversity in form, which is quite remarkable when all they have to do is fertilise ova. This diversity in size and shape raises many fascinating questions, the most interesting of which will be the focus of this module. While the module primarily focuses on animal reproduction, it also covers others aspects of sexual reproduction, evolution, selection, unusual genetic systems and the origin of the sexes themselves.

The module prepares you for the workplace by setting weekly deadlines and encouraging discussion and logical, critical thinking, while also providing training in tackling problems via first principles.

We use primary research as the vehicle to explore and understand the natural world and learn to apply logic and systematic approaches to enquiry. Teaching on this module includes elements of research undertaken by module staff, which includes areas such as sperm diversity, sexual selection, genital evolution, and the evolution of the sexes. Students are expected to undertake enquiry-led learning, especially through the flip-classroom discussion groups that take up about two thirds of the module. Discussion sessions apply learning to novel questions in a semi-structured student-led learning environment.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Discuss diversity within and across populations and species
  • 2. Describe how sperm form influences reproductive success
  • 3. Explain how males and females co-evolve
  • 4. Illustrate that there are genetic systems that are very different to what we consider normal
  • 5. Explain how our perspectives and understanding change over time

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of biosciences
  • 7. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 8. Identify and implement, with limited guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for solving a range of complex problems in biosciences
  • 9. With minimal guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 10. Describe and evaluate in detail approaches to our understanding of biosciences with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 11. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 12. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 13. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with very limited guidance
  • 14. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to graduate-level professional and practical skills, and act autonomously to develop new areas of skills as necessary
  • 15. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements
  • 16. Work in a small team and deal proficiently with the issues that teamwork requires (i.e. communication, motivation, decision-making, awareness, responsibility, and management skills, including setting and working to deadlines)

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The module will briefly review the evolution of the sexes, before turning to the diversity of sperm and eggs, sperm female interactions and unusual genetic systems. Examples will be chosen to illustrate different issues, including, for example, sperm-egg interactions, sperm and speciation, and other issues.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching15 Lectures/discussion sessions – covering material that includes the evolution of the sexes, sperm form, motility and energetics, variation in morphology, the evolution of genitalia, inbreeding depression and unusual genetics systems
Guided independent study135Additional reading, research and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during lectures and discussion sessionsOngoing throughout the moduleAllOral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay examination601 hour1-13Written feedback on request
Essay351000 words4-13Written
Discussion contribution5In class13Written on request


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay examinationEssay examination1-13August assessment period
EssayEssay4-13August assessment period
Discussion contributionNot applicableNot applicableNot applicable

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The contribution to class discussions assessment is not deferrable due to its practical nature. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Sperm Biology: An Evolutionary Perspective. TR Birkhead, DJ Hosken and S Pitnick (eds). 2009. Academic Press, Oxford. ISBN 9780123725684

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Reproduction, evolution, sexual reproduction, selection, speciation, genetic systems, diversity, genitalia, eggs,

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date