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Course Code: BIOL 3401
Faculty: Science & Technology
Department: Biology
Credits: 5.0
Semester: 15
Learning Format: Lecture, Lab, Seminar
Typically Offered: TBD. Contact Department Chair for more info.
course overview

This course investigates the diversity, evolution and ecology of viruses. General topics such as viral structure, replication, ‘life’ cycles and diversity will be covered in the class. Viruses infecting all forms of life including bacteria, plants, humans and other animals are investigated. The scope of the course ranges from molecular virology to aspects of epidemiology. Current topics in virology are also highlighted including aquatic viral ecology, emerging viruses and the practical application of viruses.

Course Content

1. Introduction

  • discovery of viruses
  • history of virological methods
  • importance of viruses through time

2. Viral morphology, structure, classification and taxonomy

  • obligate intracellular nature of viruses
  • status of viruses as living organisms
  • case of location on the tree of life
  • basic viral components (structure & morphology)
  • viral classification (historical and modern)
  • viral taxonomy

3. Viral replication and the different ‘life’ cycles

  • entry into host cells
  • replication of ss(+) RNA, ss (-) RNA, ds RNA, ss DNA, ds DNA and retroviruses
  • viral assembly
  • viral release
  • lysogenic and latent ‘life’ cycles

4. Viral diversity

  • morphological and structural viral diversity
  • genetic diversity
  • functional diversity
  • mechanisms that maintain this diversity (horizontal gene transfer, etc.)

5. Viral evolution

  • horizontal gene transfer
  • antigenic structures
  • red-queen hypothesis

6. Types of viruses

  • bacteriophage
  • archaeal viruses
  • giruses
  • plant viruses
  • animal viruses (including zoonotic viruses)

7. Viral ecology

  • viruses in the environment
  • role in nutrient recycling (viral shunt)
  • significant source of mortality
  • control of population dynamics
  • impacts of climate change

8. Industrial uses of viruses

  • agriculture uses
  • biological control (e.g. cyanobacteria blooms)
  • concerns in the production of biofuels, cheese, etc.

9. Human-viral interactions

  • emerging viruses
  • epidemiology, socio-economic impacts (using HIV as a case study)
  • vaccines
  • co-evolution arms race and its role in developing host immunity
  • cancer

10. Other acellular components

  • viroids
  • prions
  • viruses of viruses

 11. Reading primary literature and researching project topics 

  • critical reading of current primary literature 
  • researching a term project topic
  • oral and written presentation

 12. Laboratory

  • laboratory operations and safety
  • laboratory reporting techniques
  • aseptic techniques
  • isolation
  • enumeration via plaques and epifluorescence microscopy
  • basic bacteriophage genome analysis
  • single step growth curves of viruses (cyanophage)
  • prophage induction
  • viral fingerprinting (PCR-DGGE or PFGE)


Methods of Instruction

The course combines lectures, laboratory activities, discussion groups and seminars. The content of the lecture is integrated with laboratory experiments/discussion and/or seminars and with the textbook and scientific journal articles.

Means of Assessment

Evaluation will be carried out in accordance with Douglas College policy. The instructor will present a written course outline with specific evaluation criteria at the beginning of the semester. Evaluation will be based on the following:

Evaluation Marks
Class tests and assignments   10-20
Laboratory assessments  15-30
Term paper/presentation 10-25
Midterm examination 20-30
Final examination 30-35

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the course, students will be able to

  1. describe the history of virology

  2. illustrate how viruses are studied using both lab-based and computer-based techniques

  3. explain viral morphology, classification and taxonomy

  4. compare and contrast viral structure and replication

  5. use examples to demonstrate the various viral ‘life’ cycles

  6. describe viral diversity

  7. explain and assess the relative importance of the mechanisms that maintain viral diversity (i.e. viral evolution and immunity)

  8. compare and contrast bacteriophage as well as archaeal, plant  and animal viruses, and giruses

  9. describe the important ecological role of viruses

  10. explain the industrial uses of viruses

  11. examine human-viral interactions, including emerging viruses, epidemiology, vaccines, immunity, cancer

  12. describe other acellular components such as viroids and prions

  13. identify, examine and criticize scientific literature

  14. write and present a research project

  15. employ a variety of laboratory techniques, including isolation, enumeration, basic genome analysis and single step growth curves of viruses (cyanophage)

course prerequisites

BIOL 2400 or BIOL 2401



curriculum guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester/year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

course schedule and availability
course transferability

Below shows how this course and its credits transfer within the BC transfer system. 

A course is considered university-transferable (UT) if it transfers to at least one of the five research universities in British Columbia: University of British Columbia; University of British Columbia-Okanagan; Simon Fraser University; University of Victoria; and the University of Northern British Columbia.

For more information on transfer visit the BC Transfer Guide and BCCAT websites.


If your course prerequisites indicate that you need an assessment, please see our Assessment page for more information.