Biology is the study of living organisms. This VCE course incorporates aspects of many branches of biology including biochemistry, genetics, evolutionary biology, cell biology and molecular biology. The study of biology prepares students for further study in the biosciences including environmental, medical and associated biotechnological fields.

Unit 1: How do living things stay alive?

In this unit students explore what makes an organism a living thing and how they stay alive. This includes the role of the cell membrane in controlling what enters and exists in the cell and how organisms ensure they have a relatively stable internal environment. They then move on to look at how living systems sustain life. This area of study focuses on the adaptations of individual organisms to a range of different environments and how homeostatic mechanisms in the organism ensure stability of the cells in the face of widely fluctuating environmental conditions. They will also study the biology of populations by looking at the interactions between organisms of different species and those of the same species. All students will complete a self-designed investigation. The investigation requires the student to develop a question, plan a course of action to answer the question, undertake an investigation to collect the appropriate data, organise and interpret the data and reach a conclusion in response to the question.

Unit 2: How is continuity of life maintained?

In this unit students explore the importance of reproduction in maintaining life. Its role in both the reproduction of whole organisms to create the next generation and in cells to ensure growth and repair of tissues is studied. In looking at reproduction, students will study the cell cycle and the two main methods of cell reproduction; mitosis and meiosis. Students will then study how reproduction links to inheritance and what characteristics are inheritable. They will study the interaction of genes and the environment in developing the traits of an individual and the epigenetic nature of inheritance. All students will complete an individual investigation of an issue relating to genetics as part of this unit. This might include human cloning, genetic modification of organisms, the use of forensic DNA databanks, assisted reproductive technologies and prenatal and predictive genetic testing – challenging social and ethical norms.

Assessment activities:

  • Practical investigations
  • Written tests
  • Extended Practical Investigation
  • Ethical research report
  • End of Unit Exams

Unit 3: How do cells maintain life?

In this unit students will study the biology of cells. They will further their understanding from Unit 1 of the role of the plasma membrane in maintaining a stable environment. They will also study the key biological molecules, in particular the structure of DNA and how this is used to code for a protein. They will explore the expression of genes including how and why they are switched on and off in response to internal and external stimuli. Students will also study reactions that take place in cells including photosynthesis and respiration and how enzymes are used to control these reactions. They will explain the actions of enzymes and the conditions in which they work well. Students will also study the communication between adjacent and non­‐adjacent cells. They will look at the nervous, endocrine and immune systems as signalling pathways and explain the disorders that can arise when these signals do not work properly.

Unit 4: How does life change and respond to challenges over time?

In this unit students will study evolution as a mechanism for change in communities. They will look at how existing species are related and the evidence for this which can be structural, genetic or based on the fossil record. Students will also study the impact of human behaviours on natural processes. This includes the action of humans in artificially selecting mates and hunting animals as well as more modern techniques such as DNA manipulation. This Unit focuses on social and ethical implications of biology and how an increase in scientific knowledge can be a challenge for society to address.

Selection advice:

This subject would suit students who enjoy learning about how life developed, exploring the living world on the microscopic and whole organism level and using theory to explain things we see in everyday life.

Links to further pathways:

VCE Biology provides for continuing study pathways within the discipline and leads to a range of careers. Branches of biology include botany, genetics, immunology, microbiology, pharmacology and zoology. In addition, biology is applied in many fields of endeavour including biotechnology, dentistry, ecology, education, food science, forestry, health care, horticulture, medicine, optometry, physiotherapy and veterinary science. Biologists also work in cross-disciplinary areas such as bushfire research, environmental management and conservation, forensic science, geology, medical research and sports science.

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