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Department of Genetics


Part III Systems Biology 

Part III Systems Biology is a fourth year undergraduate course open to students who have completed Part II courses in Biological, Physical, Mathematics or Computer Sciences. Entry requirements 

Systems Biology is an integrated approach to the study of biology through experiment and the use of computer models with both predictive and explanatory power. It is interdisciplinary, requiring the participation of biological, physical, mathematical, engineering and computational sciences.

The Part III Systems Biology Course take approx. 24 students per year. The students who take this course will have completed Part II courses in a variety subjects within the Natural Sciences and Mathematical Triposes.

Registration and entry

If you are interested in taking Part III Systems Biology, please submit this Form by the last day of Full Lent Term and let us know your Part II results as soon as you receive them by emailing ?subject=Part%20II%20results"> Formal acceptances, subject to performance in the Part II Final Examinations, will be sent out as soon as the various Part II course results are known. For the entry requirements and also the process for considering special cases see

Part III Systems Biology programme specification

Michaelmas Term

Introductory module: This module starts with an Introduction that deals with the concepts, history, and future aspirations of systems biology. The module develops three interweaving sub-themes. You will have lectures that deal with the nature of modern biological science in relation to the concepts, approaches, methods and tools of Systems Biology. Following this, the teaching focuses on a contextualised mathematical and computer modelling toolkit comprising lectures and classes.

Data Acquisition and Handling (DAH): Systems biology relies on the ability to obtain a ‘global’ view of the physiology of a cell by the simultaneous identification and quantification of thousands of different molecules (such as proteins, nucleic acids and metabolites).  This module will present the techniques used to acquire data in the various ‘omics’ approaches (transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics), as well as in high-throughput genetics.  Because of their size and experimental limitations, the handling of these datasets presents unique challenges.  Therefore, the module will emphasise the practical aspects of dealing with this type of data.  Large-scale approaches are generally applied to cell populations, and often lack spatial and temporal resolution.  The module will introduce how they are complemented by in vivo analysis of single cells using advanced microscopy, which can provide information on cell-to-cell variation and spatial control.

Lent Term

Modelling and Analysis of networks (MAN): The module focuses on mathematical and statistical methods used to evaluate and analyse large-scale data sets and use them for the reconstruction of biological networks. Methods for the analysis of metabolic, gene-regulatory, and large-scale networks will also be introduced.

Modelling in Biology (MIB): This module aims to introduce students to the de novo design of biological systems using the techniques of Synthetic Biology and computational simulation. The theory and practice of Synthetic Biology is introduced both in the context of designing exemplar biological systems to test our understanding of natural systems and in that of systems design and fabrication to produce novel devices of commercial or medical utility. The design, simulation, and analysis of biological models using some of the main computational techniques in Executable Biology are then introduced. Finally, the two strands of the module are integrated by a group mini project in which students design a system and test its feasibility by computer simulation, or build a model of a particular biological process and analyse its behaviour. The module includes a 5-day computer-based group mini-project that is examined.

Seminars: Each term there will be 3 or 4 research seminars, delivered by experts in the field. The purpose of these is to put some of the concepts and approaches you learn about in the context of a research question. Seminar speakers are not asked to provide examination questions, but lecturers on the course will expect you to have attended the seminars and may hope to find material from them in exam answers. Please take the opportunity to ask questions - all the seminar speakers are very approachable!

Research Project: The project will run for 12 weeks in Michaelmas and Lent Terms, starting in week 4 of Michaelmas Term. It may consist of any (agreed) combination of practical, theoretical or analytical work and will have support from classes or seminars from active researchers. Each project will have a research group leader as overall (senior) supervisor and a day-to-day supervisor (post-doctoral or senior graduate student). Joint projects will be encouraged where pairs of students, one with a biological and one with a mathematical/physical/computational background, collaborate to address a systems problem.  Students will present the results of their project to the group and submit individual project reports.

Four written papers:

Paper 1 (two hours): integrative essays on biological and physical sciences subjects (10%)
Paper 2 (three hours): questions on DAH module (15%)
Paper 3 (three hours): practical exam on MAN module (15%)
Paper 4 (three and a quarter hours): data interpretation and grant proposal (15%)

Team-based design project for MIB module (15%)
Research project (30%)

Contact us

If there are any issues relating to the Part III please contact the Part III Administrator via