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VCE Science

Biology Unit 4: How Does Life Change and Respond to Challenges Over Time?


Biology Unit 3.

Course Description

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.

Areas of Study

How are species related?

In this area of study, students focus on changes to genetic material over time and the evidence for biological evolution. They investigate how changes to genetic material lead to new species through the process of natural selection as a mechanism for evolution. Students examine how evolutionary biology and the relatedness of species is based upon the accumulation of evidence. They learn how interpretations of evidence can change in the light of new evidence as a result of technological advances, particularly in molecular biology. The human fossil record is explored to identify the major biological and cognitive trends that have led to a complex interrelationship between biology and culture.

How do humans impact on biological processes?

In this area of study students examine the impact of human culture and technological applications on biological processes. They apply their knowledge of the structure and function of the DNA molecule to examine how molecular tools and techniques can be used to manipulate the molecule for a particular purpose. Students describe gene technologies used to address human issues and consider their social and ethical implications. Scientific knowledge can both challenge and be challenged by society. Students examine biological challenges that illustrate how the reception of scientific knowledge is influenced by social, economic and cultural factors.

Practical investigation

The investigation requires students to identify an aim, develop a question, formulate a hypothesis and plan a course of action to answer their question while complying with safety and ethical guidelines. Students then undertake an experiment that involves the collection of primary qualitative and/or quantitative data, analyses and evaluates the data, identifies limitations of data and methods, links experimental results to science ideas, reaches a conclusion in response to their question and suggests further investigations which may be undertaken. The results of the investigation are presented in a scientific poster format. A practical logbook must be maintained by the student for record, authentication and assessment purposes.


Outcomes Assessment Tasks Marks Allocated
(school-assessed coursework)
Analyse evidence for evolutionary change, explain how relatedness between species is determined and elaborate on the consequences of biological change in human evolution.

A report using primary or secondary data.

Describe how tools and techniques can be used to manipulate DNA, explain how biological knowledge is applied to biotechnical applications, and analyse the interrelationship between scientific knowledge and its applications in society.

A response to an issue


a report of a laboratory investigation.
Design and undertake an investigation related to cellular processes and/or biological change and continuity over time, and present methodologies, findings and conclusions in a scientific poster.
A structured scientific poster according to the VCAA template.
Total Marks 90

Overall Final Assessment

Graded Assessment Title Assessment Exam Duration Contribution to Study Score (%)
1 Unit 3 Coursework School-assessed   16
2 Unit 4 Coursework School-assessed   24
3 Written Examination November 2.5 hours 60


Reproduced by permission of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Victoria, Australia: