Course Title

Plant Biology

Course Code


Offered Study Year 3, Semester 1
Course Coordinator Oliver Martin Mueller-Cajar (Asst Prof) 6592 3184
Pre-requisites None
No of AUs 3
Contact hours Lectures: 24, Tutorials: 12, Laboratories: 9
Approved for delivery from AY 2018/19, semester 1
Last revised 19 Oct 2018, 09:25

Course Aims

This course aims to introduce the world of plants at an advanced level in selected topics such as diversity and classification, ecology, physiology, the photosynthetic processes and bioenergy, plant genomics and secondary metabolites. The course discusses sustainability and maintenance of our planet including concepts such as the vulnerability and destruction of rainforests, obtaining energy from plants and artificial photosynthesis, enhancing agricultural outcomes, and natural products with their uses in Western and Traditional Medicine.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Upon successfully completing this course, you should be able to:

  1. Apply evolutionary concepts to rationalize the strategies used by plants in their natural environment
  2. Explain experimental data in the context of gene function
  3. Explain the molecular mechanisms underlying plant growth and behaviour, in particular the differences and similarities to animal systems.
  4. Formulate testable hypotheses to probe plant biology specific phenomena
  5. Outline the physical concepts and machinery utilized by plants to convert light energy into chemical energy

Course Content

Plant diversity and phylogeny

Plant anatomy



Plant hormones

Cell wall and fatty acids

Plant-microbe interactions

Plant genomics

Secondary metabolites of plants



Component Course ILOs tested SBS Graduate Attributes tested Weighting Team / Individual Assessment Rubrics
Continuous Assessment
Assignment 1, 5 1. a, c, d
2. g, h
3. a, b, c, e, f
5. a, b, c, e
6. d
7. a
10 team See Appendix for rubric
Written Report 1, 5 1. a, b, c, d
2. g, h
3. a, b, c, e, f
5. a, b, c, e
6. d
7. a
20 team See Appendix for rubric
Mid-semester Quiz
Multiple Choice Questions 1, 2, 3, 5 1. a, b, c, d
3. c, f
5. a, c
10 individual
Examination (2.5 hours)
Essay 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 1. a, b, c, d
2. h
3. b, c, e, f
5. a, c, e
7. a
36 individual See Appendix for rubric
Multiple Choice Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 1. a, b, c, d
3. c, f
5. c, e
24 individual
Total 100%

These are the relevant SBS Graduate Attributes.

1. Recognize the relationship and complexity between structure and function of all forms of life, resulting from an academically rigorous in-depth understanding of biological concepts

a. Possess a conceptual framework that identifies the relationships between the major domains in the field of biology.

b. Explain the relationship between structure and function of all forms of life at the molecular level

c. Explain the relationship between structure and function of all forms of life at the cellular level

d. Explain the relationship between structure and function of all forms of life at the organism level

2. Critically evaluate and analyze biological information by applying the knowledge, scientific methods and technical skills associated with the discipline

g. Evaluate the results of their own experiments and decide on the next step

h. Identify unintended results as opportunities for discovery

3. Develop and communicate biological ideas and concepts relevant in everyday life for the benefit of society

a. Simplify and explain scientific concepts and results of experiments to a non-biologist (avoiding jargon)

b. Display and explain scientific results clearly and persuasively to peers both verbally and in writing (includes the ability to graph data appropriately and accurately).

c. Demonstrate an understanding of the recursive nature of science, where new results continually modify previous knowledge

e. Discuss current critical questions in the field of biology

f. Demonstrate an understanding of the social and natural context of knowledge (role of science in society, influence of society on science)

5. Develop communication, creative and critical thinking skills for life-long learning

a. Learn independently and then share that knowledge with others

b. Learn collaboratively and be willing to share expertise with peers

c. Demonstrate critical thinking skills such as analysis, discrimination, logical reasoning, prediction and transforming knowledge

e. Demonstrate good observation skills and a curiosity about the world

6. Develop codes of social responsibility and scientific ethics, particularly in relation to biological advancement and applications

d. Respect requirements regarding confidentiality, data protection, conflict of interest, and falsification of data

7. Demonstrate information literacy and technological fluency

a. Locate and evaluate information needed to make decisions, solve problems, design experiments, and understand scientific data

Formative Feedback

Formative Feedback:
1- Following the mid-term quiz, questions that have been poorly answered are identified and in the following lecture, the correct solutions are discussed. This helps you to achieve Intended Learning Outcomes 1 to 5.

2- The tutorial format involves groups of about six students working together on field-related questions. These questions, and the students proposed answers, are then discussed together with a group leader in front of the class to provide instant feedback.

Both feedback modes relate to all learning outcomes.

Learning and Teaching Approach

(24 hours)

The lectures are a critical vehicle to communicate the key points of a large body of knowledge regarding the physiological and molecular life of plants that has been accumulated throughout the last century.
Acquiring the information presented in the lectures will provide the intellectual framework to particularly apply Intended Learning Outcomes 1, 3 and 5. Learning Outcome 1 is emphasized in Lectures 1-3, Learning Outcome 3 is covered in all lectures and Learning Outcome 5 is the topic of Lectures 4 and 5.

(12 hours)

The tutorials are designed to present genuine scientific problems associated with the lecture content to the students. The problems require you to work in groups to utilize your broader scientific understanding to propose experiments, interpret data and explain results published in the scientific literature. All learning outcomes are addressed in this context, but 2 and 4 are particularly targeted in the tutorials.

(9 hours)

The laboratory sessions involve:
1- Investigation of the evolutionary effects leading to the diversity of plant stem anatomy. This helps you to address Learning Outcomes 1,3 and 5

2- Chromatographic separation of photosynthetic pigments in diverse plant and algal lineages. This is related to Learning Outcomes 1, 3 and 5

3- A field trip to an example of Singapore's highly diverse native forest remnant. This helps you to address Learning Outcomes 1, 3 and 5.

Reading and References

Course Textbooks:
1- Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of Plants, Bob B. Buchanan, 2nd edition, 2015, ISBN: 978-0-470-71421-8

2- Biology of Plants, Raven, 8th edition, 2013, ISBN-13: 978-1464117800

Highly recommended reading:

3- Plant Physiology and Development, Taiz and Zeiger, 6th edition, 2015, ISBN-13: 978-1605353531

4- Plant Biochemistry, Heldt and Piechulla, 4th edition, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-12-384986-1

Earlier editions are largely equivalent in most cases. (However note that Buchanan 1st edition is out of date regarding plant hormones)

Journal articles as prescribed for tutorials.

Course Policies and Student Responsibilities

1- It is the student's responsibility to be aware of and attend continual assessment exercises and to attend the correct laboratory classes.

2- Although the lectures are recorded, your lecturer will be highly appreciative for every physical attendee.

3- Regarding tutorial classes, please ensure you turn up to your assigned timeslot. Otherwise we may have space problems.

4- Every year there are requests regarding the provision of model answers to tutorial questions and essay questions of earlier exam papers.

Due to the prodigious ability of many students to memorize and reproduce large tracts of text without comprehension of the content, we do not provide model answers to any tutorial or past exam essay questions.

If you have questions regarding any question, please contact the relevant lecturer. We are all more than happy to discuss, read your attempts to solve the problems and provide constructive feedback. We are most impressed if you can present clear evidence that you have attempted to make a real effort towards the solution for example by reading relevant sections in the textbooks.

Please note that due to syllabus changes questions found in previous exam papers may not be relevant. If the material has not been covered, of course it will not be examined.

Academic Integrity

Good academic work depends on honesty and ethical behaviour. The quality of your work as a student relies on adhering to the principles of academic integrity and to the NTU Honour Code, a set of values shared by the whole university community. Truth, Trust and Justice are at the core of NTU’s shared values.

As a student, it is important that you recognize your responsibilities in understanding and applying the principles of academic integrity in all the work you do at NTU. Not knowing what is involved in maintaining academic integrity does not excuse academic dishonesty. You need to actively equip yourself with strategies to avoid all forms of academic dishonesty, including plagiarism, academic fraud, collusion and cheating. If you are uncertain of the definitions of any of these terms, you should go to the Academic Integrity website for more information. Consult your instructor(s) if you need any clarification about the requirements of academic integrity in the course.

Course Instructors

Instructor Office Location Phone Email
Oliver Martin Mueller-Cajar (Asst Prof) 02n-17 6592 3184

Planned Weekly Schedule

Week Topic Course ILO Readings/ Activities

Plant diversity and phylogeny


relates to Field Trip in Week 10


Plant anatomy


relates to Plant Anatomy Lab in Week 8




Photosynthesis- Light reactions

2, 3, 5

relates to Lab in Week 9 (photosynthetic pigments)


Carbon assimilation reactions of photosynthesis

1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Plant hormones

1, 2, 3, 4

Cell wall and fatty acids

2, 3

Plant-microbe interactions

1, 2, 3, 4

Plant genomics

3, 4


3, 4

Secondary metabolites of plants

1, 2, 3

Natural products and medicine

2, 3

Review Lecture

1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Appendix 1: Assessment Rubrics

Rubric for Continuous Assessment: Assignment (10%)

Field Trip Essay

(Total mark will be scaled to 10%.)

Criteria Requirements for a high mark Marks
Answer quality
  • Experience conveyed through compelling site descriptions but go beyond field trip site
  • Answers go far beyond the confines of questions provided and seamlessly link concepts
Insight / Interpretation
  • Concepts are synthesised and insights made that go beyond what was asked by questions;
  • Level referencing thorough and comparable to that found in research papers;
  • Dynamic interpretations of competing theories addressed
  • Photos used are taken by students, and suggest attempts to find many examples beyond those pointed out by trip leader;
  • Photos extend concepts conveyed and even point to current concepts in the research field
Accuracy of information
  • Information flawlessly presented;
  • Scientific and common names not only accurate, but examples from beyond Singapore used to buttress arguments
  • Evidence of background reading beyond what was provided;
  • Proper citation and reference list
Writing style
  • Grammatically faultless;
  • Arguments linked;
  • Essay has a coherence much greater than the sum of answers to individual questions
Total 100

Rubric for Laboratories: Written Report (20%)

There are two laboratories, which include a written report (each comprise 10% of the final, total 20%).

a. Short answer questions are scored for factual accuracy (5 marks).

b. Description of the results (plant anatomy drawing and chromatography result, scored out of 5 marks):

4-5 marks
Honest (not idealized) representation of the results is presented (detailed and careful drawings/descriptions). Assignment of features to be described is performed with accuracy and justification.

2-3.5 marks
These reports may appear to show idealized results rather than a true representation of the experiment. Features assigned are generally correct but reasoning may not be explained.

0-1.5 marks
Drawings careless and descriptions may be incorrect. Poor or incorrect reasoning presented regarding the assignment of features.

Rubric for Examination: Essay (36%)

(Each question is scored out of 12 marks, and the total score is scaled to 36%.)

10-12 marks
Question correctly interpreted and engaged. Factually correct and logical arguments are presented. For top marks evidence of comprehension or insight beyond the lecture notes is apparent.

7-9 marks
Question is correctly interpreted and a logical solution is presented. Some incomplete understanding or minor factual errors may be apparent. Level of detail expected for higher scoring answer may be missing.

4-6 marks
Information relevant to the subject area of the question is presented, but may be factually inaccurate. Essays scoring in this range often blindly reproduce memorized lecture slide material.

0-3 marks
Student fails to engage the question. Information presented is not relevant and/or incorrect. No, or insignificant attempt made to answer.

Appendix 2: Intended Affective Outcomes

As a result of this course, it is expected you will develop the following "big picture" attributes:

Develop a holistic view on plant diversity and evolution and on what allows plants to function in the context of ecological systems and survive in different range of habitats

Appreciate the megadiverse nature of local flora, its vulnerability to current economic activities and enormous potential regarding activities like bioprospecting

Build an awareness of the underlying conserved nature of genetics and biochemistry, and how similar molecular strategies have been used to achieve different outcomes in plants compared to animals and other organisms

Begin to understand the enormous opportunities for humanity inherent in generating a deep understanding of plant biology

Realize how plants and their biology are critical to human existence