VCE Biology enables students to investigate the processes involved in sustaining life at cellular, system, species and ecosystem levels. In undertaking this study, students examine how life has evolved over time and understand that in the dynamic and interconnected system of life all change has a consequence that may affect an individual, a species or the collective biodiversity of Earth. The study gives students insights into how knowledge of molecular and evolutionary concepts underpin much of contemporary biology, and the applications used by society to resolve problems and make advancements. 

In VCE Biology students develop a range of inquiry skills involving practical experimentation and research, analytical skills including critical and creative thinking, and communication skills. Students use scientific and cognitive skills and understanding to analyse contemporary biology-related issues, and communicate their views from an informed position.

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.

Units of Study

Unit 1: How do living things stay alive?

In this unit students are introduced to some of the challenges to an organism in sustaining life. Students examine the cell as the structural and functional unit of life, from the single celled to the multicellular organism, and the requirements for sustaining cellular processes in terms of inputs and outputs. They analyse types of adaptations that enhance the organism’s survival in a particular environment and consider the role homeostatic mechanisms play in maintaining the internal environment. Students investigate how a diverse group of organisms form a living interconnected community that is adapted to, and utilises, the abiotic resources of its habitat. The role of a keystone species in maintaining the structure of an ecosystem is explored. Students consider how the planet’s biodiversity is classified and the factors that affect the growth of a population.

A student practical investigation related to the survival of an organism or species is undertaken in Area of Study 3. The investigation draws on content from Area of Study 1 and/or Area of Study 2.

Unit 2: How is continuity of life maintained?

In this unit students focus on cell reproduction and the transmission of biological information from  generation to generation. Students learn that all cells are derived from pre-existing cells through the cell cycle. They examine the process of DNA replication and compare cell division in both prokaryotic  and eukaryotic organisms. Students explore the mechanisms of asexual and sexual reproductive strategies, and consider the advantages and disadvantages of these two types of reproduction. The role of stem cells in the differentiation, growth, repair and replacement of cells in humans is examined, and their potential use in medical therapies is considered.

Students use chromosome theory and terminology from classical genetics to explain the inheritance of characteristics, analyse patterns of inheritance, interpret pedigree charts and predict outcomes of genetic crosses. They explore the relationship between genes, the environment and the regulation of genes in giving rise to phenotypes. They consider the role of genetic knowledge in decision making about the inheritance of autosomal dominant, autosomal recessive and sex-linked genetic conditions.  in this context the uses of genetic screening and its social and ethical issues are examined.

A student-directed research investigation into, and communication of, an issue related to genetics and/or reproductive science is to be undertaken in Area of Study 3. The investigation draws on content  from Area of Study 1 and/or Area of Study 2

Unit 3: How do cells maintain life?

The cell is a dynamic system of interacting molecules that define life. An understanding of the workings of the cell enables an appreciation of both the capabilities and the limitations of living organisms whether animal, plant, fungus or microorganism. The convergence of cytology, genetics and  biochemistry makes cell biology one of the most rapidly evolving disciplines in contemporary biology.

In this unit students investigate the workings of the cell from several perspectives. They explore the importance of the insolubility of the plasma membrane in water and its differential permeability to specific solutes in defining the cell, its internal spaces and the control of the movement of molecules and ions in and out of such spaces. Students consider base pairing specificity, the binding of enzymes and substrates, the response of receptors to signalling molecules and reactions between antigens and
antibodies to highlight the importance of molecular interactions based on the complementary nature of specific molecules.

Students study the synthesis, structure and function of nucleic acids and proteins as key molecules in cellular processes. They explore the chemistry of cells by examining the nature of biochemical
pathways, their components and energy transformations. Cells communicate with each other using a variety of signalling molecules. Students consider the types of signals, the transduction of information within the cell and cellular responses. At this molecular level students study the human immune system and the interactions between its components to provide immunity to a specific antigen.

A student practical investigation related to cellular processes and/or biological change and continuity over time is undertaken in either Unit 3 or Unit 4, or across both Units 3 and 4, and is assessed in Unit 4, Outcome 3. The findings of the investigation are presented in a scientific poster format. 

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

In this unit students consider the continual change and challenges to which life on Earth has been subjected. They investigate the relatedness between species and the impact of various change events on a population’s gene pool. The accumulation of changes over time is considered as a mechanism for biological evolution by natural selection that leads to the rise of new species. Students examine change in life forms using evidence from palaeontology, biogeography, developmental biology and structural
morphology. They explore how technological developments in the fields of comparative genomics, molecular homology and bioinformatics have resulted in evidence of change through measurements of relatedness between species.

Students examine the structural and cognitive trends in the human fossil record and the interrelationships between human biological and cultural evolution. The biological consequences, and social and ethical implications, of manipulating the DNA molecule and applying biotechnologies is explored for both the individual and the species.

A student practical investigation related to cellular processes and/or biological change and continuity over time is undertaken in either Unit 3 or Unit 4, or across both Units 3 and 4, and is assessed in Unit 4, Outcome 3. The findings of the investigation are presented in a scientific poster format.

Example pathways
  • Biologist
  • Doctor
  • Veterinarian
  • Surgeon
  • Nurse
  • Scientist
  • Gardener
  • Laboratory Technician
  • Dentistry

This is a guide only, please see the careers team for pathway planning advice.

Entry

There are no prerequisites for entry to Units 1, 2 and 3. Students must undertake Unit 3 prior to undertaking Unit 4. Students entering Unit 3 without Units 1 and/or 2 may be required to undertake additional preparation as prescribed by their teacher.

Unit 3 and 4 Assessment

Percentage contributions to the study score in VCE Biology are as follows:

  • Unit 3 School-assessed Coursework: 16 per cent.
  • Unit 4 School-assessed Coursework: 24 per cent.
  • End-of-year examination: 60 per cent.