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Department of Biosciences

About the Department of Biosciences

Historical Perspective

The Department of Biosciences in Durham University can trace its origins back to the formation of the Botany Department in 1932, followed by the addition of the Zoology Department in 1946.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century these departments carried out outstanding research in plant evolution and genetics, pollution ecology (with important work on the Windscale nuclear accident), the early use of electron microscopy for the study of fungal ultrastructure, insect physiology and pest control, avian ecology, ecophysiology of algae and the early application of computers in population genetics. During this period the media spotlight fell on the university, thanks to the TV series presented by Durham botanist and environmentalist David Bellamy OBE. His programmes attracted large audiences, won him a BAFTA Richard Dimbleby Award and established a tradition here for teaching science in an engaging and entertaining way.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the Zoology department developed an enviable reputation for research into animal physiology and animal behaviour, whilst the Botany department became internationally recognized for its biochemical research into nutritionally important plant proteins and food security, often in collaboration with research institutions in the developing world. By the end of the 20th century Durham had become a centre of excellence in the molecular biology and genetic engineering techniques that form the basis for modern biology, and for studies on the impact of climate change, one of the greatest challenges of our age.

The teaching of joint Botany/Zoology honours degrees paved the way for the fusion of the two departments as Biological Sciences in 1989 and the reconstituted Department of Biological Sciences moved to a new building on the current site in 1994. The Integrative Cell Biology Laboratory, a focus for functional genomics research, bioimaging and proteomic technologies, was opened in 2002, shortly after the integration of all of these elements into a School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, reflecting the expansion into biomedical sciences, human health and disease and the location of teaching and research at two sites, Durham City and the Queen's Campus, Stockton-on-Tees. With the withdrawal from medical teaching and consolidation of all research and teaching activities at the Durham City site, the School became the new Department of Biosciences in 2016.

The history of Biological Sciences in Durham has been one of constant growth and innovation, exploiting new technologies to enhance our understanding of the living world, exemplified by our current status as one of the best-equipped universities in the UK for the imaging of plant and animal cell ultrastructure - technologies that are essential for advances in stem cell research and developmental biology. Throughout, the integration of cutting-edge research and teaching has remained central to our ethos, ensuring that our graduates are fully equipped to make their own contribution to improving human welfare, maintaining the health of the environment, ensuring sustainable agriculture and conserving biodiversity for future generations.

RAE 2008

Contact details

Department of Biosciences,
Durham University,
Stockton Road,
+44 (0)191 3341200