Skip to main content

Unit information: Computational Methods in Biology in 2018/19

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Computational Methods in Biology
Unit code BIOL20018
Credit points 10
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1B (weeks 7 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Christos Ioannou
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Biological Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Life Sciences


The aim of this unit is to introduce methods of data analysis that are now widespread in biological research but are often more targeted to particular problems than the 'traditional' statistics taught in the Quantitative Methods unit in Biology (BIOL20001, a mandatory unit taught in TB1A, weeks 1-6). These methods often deal with 'big data', and hence rely on using a computer. Students will gain training in these techniques that are likely to be of use in their projects in years 3 and 4, and beyond into the wider world.

The unit will provide students with a basic understanding of computationally intense methods commonly used in biology. Each week we will cover a different technique, such as programming, simulation modelling, bioinformatics, social network analysis, population genetics and phylogenetics. Lectures will be interspersed with practicals to give hands-on experience with numerous worked examples. The unit will give an introduction to R, the most widespread programming language used in biology.

Intended learning outcomes

Students will be able to modify and apply methods taught in this unit to solve relevant data analysis problems. In addition, students will gain a basic understanding of the principles of computer programming.

Teaching details

  • 1 hour weekly lectures to give the biological context and theory for the practical classes.
  • 1 x 3 hour weekly lab practical for hands-on worked examples
  • Self-directed learning week. Students are expected to spend this time on directed reading and working independently on their assessed practical assignments.

Assessment Details

Attendance at practicals and completion of specified practical reports is mandatory. The unit is exclusively assessed through continuous assessment (i.e. no exam). Students will undertake marked practical exercises and will receive marks and written feedback from each.

Reading and References

There is no single text that covers the diversity of techniques covered in this unit. There are, however, a multitude of websites that will be able to help in each method covered in the unit.