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Unit outline_

BIOL3020: Applied Plant Function

Semester 1, 2021 [Normal day] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

Plants are truly amazing. Plants lift water to heights that defy physics. Plants take sunlight and simple inorganic ingredients to create a bewildering diversity of organic compounds. What's even more amazing is that we are only just beginning to understand how plants achieve these amazing feats. This unit explores how plants function and illustrates how this knowledge can be applied to real-World problems. Major topics include how plants function as integrated systems, resource partitioning and the dilemmas faced by plants, interaction of plants with the world around them. Emphasis will be placed on integration of plant responses from molecular through to whole plant scales, and how this knowledge can be practically applied to maximise plant growth, optimise use of water and nutrients, and understand how plants affect (and are affected by) their environment. Lectures are augmented by experimental work that leads to practical hands-on experience with research tools and techniques that can be applied across the sciences, and bespoke instruments used in the world's leading plant science research laboratories. This unit of study complements other senior units of study in the Plant Science minor and is essential for those seeking a career in plant biology and plant-related fields, including ecology, cell biology, genetics, breeding, agriculture, molecular biology, environmental law, education and the arts.

Unit details and rules

Academic unit Life and Environmental Sciences Academic Operations
Credit points 6
BIOL2X23 or BIOL2X30 or BIOL2X31 or AGEN2001 or AGEN2005 or BIOL2X09
BIOL3043, BIOL3943, AGEN2005, PLNT3001, PLNT3901, PLNT3002, PLNT3902, ENSY3001
Assumed knowledge

Knowledge of concepts and skills in BIOL1XX6

Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Charles Warren,
Lecturer(s) Min Chen,
Charles Warren,
Tina Louise Bell,
Andrew Merchant,
Thomas Roberts,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Final exam (Record+) Type B final exam hurdle task CANVAS proctored online exam
Barrier task: 40% minimum
40% Formal exam period 2 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7 LO8
Small continuous assessment hurdle task Laboratory notebook
Barrier task: minimum of 80% lab class attendance
15% Multiple weeks see Canvas for instructions
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO9 LO4
Assignment Lab report
Formal lab report - see Canvas for more details
30% Week 09
Due date: 07 May 2021 at 17:00
see Canvas for instructions
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO8 LO9
Assignment group assignment Group Presentation: one-page summary
See canvas
5% Week 11
Due date: 21 May 2021 at 17:00
One-page summary
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO8 LO7 LO6 LO2 LO4
Presentation group assignment Group Presentation
Submit presentation online before 5PM 31 May, present in week 13 lab class
10% Week 13
Due date: 31 May 2021 at 17:00
10 minutes maximum. See Canvas
Outcomes assessed: LO2 LO6 LO7 LO8
hurdle task = hurdle task ?
group assignment = group assignment ?
Type B final exam = Type B final exam ?

Assessment summary

  • Exam: 2-hour exam at the end of semester. This is a barrier task – you must score a minimum of 40% to pass the unit.
  • Group presentation: Near the bginning of semester students will form groups and begin reseraching a topic. During the scheduled lab class in week 13 students will make short presentations to class
  • Lab report: Students will need to write a formal lab report for their nutrition project. The formatting guidelines below are based upon ‘norms’ for the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Please follow these guidelines. Marks will be deducted if students do not follow these guidelines. Additional advice on writing lab reports will be provided in class.
  • Laboratory notebook: As with any experimental work, it is essential that you maintain a complete record of your experiments throughout this unit. Your records should refer to and record changes to the experimental procedures described in the lab manual, and deetail calculations, results.  All labs require interpretataion and a short conclusion.

Detailed information for each assessment can be found on Canvas.

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a high distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100

At HD level, a student demonstrates a flair for the subject as well as a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the unit material. A ‘High Distinction’ reflects exceptional achievement and is awarded to a student who demonstrates the ability to apply their subject knowledge and understanding to produce original solutions for novel or highly complex problems and/or comprehensive critical discussions of theoretical concepts.


75 - 84

At DI level, a student demonstrates an aptitude for the subject and a well-developed understanding of the unit material. A ‘Distinction’ reflects excellent achievement and is awarded to a student who demonstrates an ability to apply their subject knowledge and understanding of the subject to produce good solutions for challenging problems and/or a reasonably well-developed critical analysis of theoretical concepts.


65 - 74

At CR level, a student demonstrates a good command and knowledge of the unit material. A Credit reflects solid achievement and is awarded to a student who has a broad general understanding of the unit material and can solve routine problems and/or identify and superficially discuss theoretical concepts.


50 - 64

At PS level, a student demonstrates proficiency in the unit material. A ‘Pass’ reflects satisfactory achievement and is awarded to a student who has threshold knowledge of the subject and can solve simple problems and can accurately identify key theoretical concepts.


0 - 49

When you don’t meet the learning outcomes of the unit to a satisfactory standard.

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

This unit has an exception to the standard University policy or supplementary information has been provided by the unit coordinator. This information is displayed below:

All assignments have specified deadlines and marks will be deducted for late assignments at the rate of 5% per day or part day late. 5% per day applies to regular working days, weekend days, and public holidays. If you are ill or have any other valid reason to hand in an assignment late or feel that your overall performance may have been adversely affected; you may submit a "Request for special consideration" form. For example, on an assignment given a mark of 70/100, the penalty would be 5 marks if submitted up to 24 hours late, resulting in a final mark of 65/100. If the assignment is submitted 6 days late, the penalty would be 30 marks and the final mark would be 40/100. If the assignment is more than 10 days late, the final mark will be zero

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 What it takes to be a plant Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Life choices and dilemmas Lecture (1 hr) LO5 LO8
Introduction to tools and techniques for plant sciences Science laboratory (3 hr) LO9
Week 02 Plants as autotrophs Lecture (1 hr) LO2 LO3
Carbon fixation in Calvin cycle Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Form groups and set-up: acquiring nutrients (Fe, P, N) Science laboratory (3 hr) LO9
Week 03 Flexibility in carbon fixation: C4 and CAM Lecture (1 hr) LO1
The past and future of C fixation Lecture (1 hr) LO7 LO8
Photopigments and photoadaptation Science laboratory (3 hr) LO2 LO6 LO8 LO9
Week 04 Light interception and energy conversion Lecture (1 hr) LO2 LO5
Plant respiration: powering plant processes Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
Photoinhibition and oxygen evolution Science laboratory (3 hr) LO1 LO9
Week 05 Carbon allocation to cell walls and defence Lecture (1 hr) LO5 LO8
Acquiring nutrients (Fe, P, N) Science laboratory (3 hr) LO4 LO6 LO9
Week 06 Source-sink relationships and recycling Lecture (1 hr) LO2 LO3 LO5
Source-sink relations and forest management Lecture (1 hr) LO2 LO3
Leaf cell ultrastructure Science laboratory (3 hr) LO1 LO9
Week 07 Co-ordination of light harvesting in plant canopies Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO5
Heteroblasty and development Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO8
Metabolic flexibility and acclimation to water deficits Science laboratory (3 hr) LO2 LO7 LO8 LO9
Week 08 Plants interacting with aboveground environment Lecture (1 hr) LO6
Plants interacting with below-ground environment Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO6
Leaf development, senescence and recycling Science laboratory (3 hr) LO5 LO8 LO9
Week 09 Plant-plant interactions Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO6
Plant-animal interactions Lecture (1 hr) LO2 LO6 LO7
Collating and analysing data for metabolic flexibility Science laboratory (3 hr) LO4 LO9
Week 10 Plant communication and responses to herbivory Lecture (1 hr) LO2 LO6
Managing competition Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5 LO7
Collating and analysing data for leaf development, senescence and recycling Science laboratory (3 hr) LO2 LO4 LO8 LO9
Week 11 Improving nutrient-use efficiency Lecture (1 hr) LO5 LO7 LO8
Improving water-use efficiency Lecture (1 hr) LO5 LO7 LO8
Work on group presentations Independent study (3 hr) LO4
Week 12 Converting C3 rice to C4: anatomical and metabolic control Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO7
Phytopharma: plants as drug factories Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO7
Modelling carbon allocation through game development Science laboratory (3 hr) LO5 LO9
Week 13 Sweet as! (Maple syrup) Lecture (1 hr) LO7
Weird and wonderful plant products Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO7
Student presentations Science laboratory (3 hr) LO2 LO4 LO6 LO7

Attendance and class requirements

Due to the exceptional circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance requirements for this unit of study have been amended. Where online tutorials/workshops/virtual laboratories have been scheduled, students should make every effort to attend and participate at the scheduled time. Penalties will not be applied if technical issues, etc. prevent attendance at a specific online class. In that case, students should discuss the problem with the coordinator, and attend another session, if available.

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

There is no prescribed textbook for this unit.  For most lectures there will be one or more peer-reviewed papers to read.  Lecturers will generally provide you with hypertext links or digital object identifiers (DOI) so that you can download and read the papers at your leisure.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. demonstrate an understanding of the key properties of plants
  • LO2. communicate the factors that determine how plants function as complex systems
  • LO3. identify the key mechanisms plants use to communicate among distant organs
  • LO4. identify and interpret peer-reviewed research
  • LO5. explain dilemmas plants face and how they arrive at an optimal solution
  • LO6. communicate ways in which plants interact with the world around them
  • LO7. describe how knowledge of plant function can be applied to real-world problems
  • LO8. illustrate how different aspects of plant function combine to affect growth
  • LO9. use research tools to investigate plant function.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

In response to student feedback, lab classes now includes explicit instructions about how best to manage time.

Additional costs

There are no additional costs. The lab manual is available as a PDF on Canvas.

Work, health and safety

We are governed by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 and Codes of Practice. Penalties for non-compliance have increased. Everyone has a responsibility for health and safety at work. The University’s Work Health and Safety policy explains the responsibilities and expectations of workers and others, and the procedures for managing WHS risks associated with University activities.

General Laboratory Safety Rules

  • No eating or drinking is allowed in any laboratory under any circumstances 
  • A laboratory coat and closed-toe shoes are mandatory 
  • Follow safety instructions in your manual and posted in laboratories 
  • In case of fire, follow instructions posted outside the laboratory door 
  • First aid kits, eye wash and fire extinguishers are located in or immediately outside each laboratory 
  • As a precautionary measure, it is recommended that you have a current tetanus immunisation. This can be obtained from University Health Service:


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.