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Biology Dissertation Topics

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Example biology dissertation topic 1:

Ecology and management of the bloody-nosed leaf beetle (Timarcha tenebricosa)

The continued expansion of towns and cities into wildlife areas, and the growing tendency for roadsides to be paved or cemented is known to be a danger to many species. Thus, the continued existence of the bloody-nosed leaf beetle (Timarcha tenebricosa), which lives mostly in roadside hedgerows, grasslands and heathlands, is threatened. This dissertation aims to look first at the specific ecology of the bloody-nosed leaf beetle and then at the manner in which growing urbanisation threatens its existence. Further, it examines the recent work by Coventry University to evaluate the status of the species, and programmes by Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull to raise awareness of the bloody-nosed leaf beetle amongst the community.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Lonsdale, D. (1991) Habitat conservation for insects: A neglected green issue Feltham: AmateurEntomologists' Society.
  • Maudsley, M.J. (2000) ‘A review of the ecology and conservation of hedgerow invertebrates in Britain', Journal of Environmental Management, Vol. 60(1), pp. 65-76.
  • New, T. (2007) Beetles and conservation. London: Springer.

Example biology dissertation topic 2:

The influence of drought on Malus domestica ‘Katy' and Malus domestica ‘Dabinett'

Drought can have a devastating effect on agriculture, particularly given the costs of irrigation. This study considers the effects of drought on two apple varieties commonly used for cider: the first is a newer variety and the latter a well-established cider variety in the south of England. The following biochemical and physiological indicators are used to gauge the level of water stress in sample trees: sorbitol, soluble carbohydrates, tocopherol, ascorbic acid, glutathione, chlorophylls, amino acids, leaf water potential, intercellular CO2 concentration (Ci), stomatal conductance (gs), net photosynthesis (Pn) and transpiration (Tr).

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Dietrich, H., Krüger-Steden, E., Patz, C-D., Will, F., Rheinberger, A. and Hopf, I. (2007) ‘Increase of sorbitol in pear and apple juice by water stress, a consequence of climatic change?' Working Paper, Geisenheim Research Centre, Geisenheim, Germany.
  • Šircelj, H., Tausz, M., Grill, D. and Batič, F. (2007) ‘Detecting different levels of drought stress in apple trees (Malusdomestica Borkh.) with selected biochemical and physiological parameters', Scientia Horticulturae, Vol. 113(4), pp. 362-369.
  • Vysini, E., Dunwell, J., Froud-Williams, B., Hadley, P., Hatcher, P., Ordidge, M., Shaw, M. and Battey, N. (2011) Sustainable cider apple production. Reading: University of Reading.

Example biology dissertation topic 3:

Reciprocal altruism in dogs towards humans

The phenomenon of reciprocal altruism has been studied extensively in primates, although less so in some other species. Given the long-standing domestication of dogs, this thesis explores whether kin-unrelated reciprocal altruism is to be found in any significant measure amongst canines. The study focuses on grooming, food sharing, and separation anxiety. As reciprocal altruism has been found in cats (although usually when the reciprocal act can be undertaken within a short period of time), and evidence of mutual regurgitation amongst African dogs, there should exist some level of reciprocal altruism in dogs to their primary humans in view of the former's high mental function. This dissertation expands beyond the use of secondary sources and conducts a limited amount of primary research.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Brosnan, S.F. and de Waal, F.B.M. (2002) ‘A proximate perspective on reciprocal altruism', Human Nature, Vol. 13(1), pp. 129-152.
  • Clutton-Brock, T. (2009) ‘Cooperation between non-kin in animal societies', Nature, Vol. 462, pp. 51-57.
  • Crowell-Davis, S.L., Curtis, T.M. and Knowles, R.J. (2004) ‘Social organization in the cat: A modern understanding', Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, Vol. 6(1), pp. 19-28.

Example biology dissertation topic 4:

Longer term behavioural effects of mephedrone upon rabbits

An extracted alkaloid of qhat, mephedrone (4-Methylmethcaninone, known also as meow-meow) was banned as a Class-B substance in 2010. Although this paper does not suggest that the ban was inappropriate, it follows up on the suggestion by The Lancet that the effects of mephedrone had not been sufficiently studied. Using a laboratory sample of four rabbits, this dissertation considers the effect of mephedrone use on a longer term basis, with a particular emphasis on the sympathomimetic toxicity of the drug. This dissertation maintains relevance as the recreational use of mephedrone continues despite its reclassification as a Class-B substance. 

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Winstock, A., Mitcheson, L., Ramsey, J., Davies, S., Puchnarewicz, M. and Marsden, J. (2011) ‘Mephedrone: use, subjective effects and health risks', Addiction, Vol. 106, pp. 1991-1996.
  • Wood, D.M., Davies, S., Puchnarewicz, M., Button, J., Archer, R., Ovaska, H., Ramsey, J., Lee, T., Holt, D.W. and Dargan, P.I. (2010) ‘Recreational use of mephedrone (4-Methylmethcathinone, 4-MMC) with associated sympathomimetic toxicity', Journal of Medical Toxicology, Vol. 6(3), pp. 327-330.

Example biology dissertation topic 5:

Contribution of ion channel mutations to neuro-degeneration

Evidence continues to suggest that mutations within ion channels are a significant contributor to neuro-degenerative diseases, such as epilepsy. Continued investigation of the phenomenon offers the possibility of treatment and even prevention of such conditions in the future. This dissertation explores the activation of acid-sensing ion channels by protons, and the subsequent pathological processes, with a particular emphasis on acidosis-mediated neuronal injury. The study undertakes a thorough and in-depth analysis of the existing literature on the topic and presents a synthesis of current academic progress, including the present state of development of ant-epileptic medications.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Armijo, J.A., Shushtarian, M., Valdizan, E.M., Cuadrado, A. Cuevas, I. and Adin, J. (2005) ‘Ion channels and epilepsy', Current Pharmaceutical Design, Vol. 11(15), pp. 1975-2003.
  • Chong, Z.G., Pignataro, G., Li, M., Chang, S-U. and Simon, R.P. (2008) ‘Acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs) as pharmacological targets for neurodegenerative diseases', Current Opinion in Pharmacology, Vol. 8(1), pp. 25-32.
  • Steinlein, O.K. and Noebels, J.L. (2000) ‘Ion channels and epilepsy in man and mouse', Current Opinion in Genetics & Development, Vol. 10(3), pp. 286-291.

Example biology dissertation topic 6:

The treatment of hirsutism in polycystic ovary syndrome

While hirsutism does not pose any specific health dangers the effect of living with the affliction on women can result in psychological issues. With one in fifteen women worldwide being affected by polycystic ovary syndrome, there is a real need for an effective method of treatment. Use of spironolactone has been found to provide only limited effects on hair growth while also being avoided by many doctors due to its weight gain side effects. The relatively new use of a topical cream, Vaniqa, has also proven to be controversial as it can only effect results while being used. Therefore, this dissertation will focus on further possible pharmacological treatments of hirsutism in PCOS and factors which reduce the effectiveness of the treatment.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Escobar-Morreale, H., Carmina, E., Dewailly, D., Gamineri, A., Kelestimur, F., Moghetti, P., Pugeat, M., Qiao, J., Wijeyratne, C.N., Witchel, S.F. and Norman, A.J. (2011) ‘Epidemiology, diagnosis and management of hirsutism: A consensus statement by the Androgen Excess and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Society', Human Reproductive Update, Vol. 18(2), pp. 146-170.
  • Harborne, L., Fleming, R., Lyall, H., Sattar, N. and Norman, J. (2003) ‘Metformin or antiandrogen in the treatment of hirsutism in polycystic ovary syndrome', Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Vol.88(9), pp. 4116-4123.
  • Moghetti, P. and Toscano, V. (2006) ‘Treatment of hirsutism and acne in hyperandrogenism', Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Vol. 20(2), pp. 221-234.
  • Witchel, S. (2006) Pediatric endocrinology: Volume 2. New York: Informa Healthcare USA.

Example biology dissertation topic 7:

Ethical implications of ‘saviour siblings'

Since the publication of My Sister's Keeper the ethics of ‘saviour siblings' have become a more publically explored issue. Not only have the legal ramifications of ‘saviour siblings' been explored but so has the possible abuse of science by parents who choose to create life solely for the purpose of continuing another life. This dissertation considers several examples of ‘saviour siblings' including the cases of Michael Whitaker and Amy and Anthony Maguire. Having reviewed the possible ethical implications on the ‘saviour sibling' the dissertation analyses the ethical implications of those in need of donor organs being refused the possibility of the creation of ‘saviour siblings'.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Bennett, B. (2005) ‘Symbiotic relationships: Saviour siblings, family rights and biomedicine', Australian Journal of Family Law, Vol. 19(3), pp. 195-212.
  • Sheldon, C. and Wilkinson, S. (2004) ‘Should selecting saviour siblings be banned?' Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 30(6), pp. 533-537.
  • Spriggs, M. (2002) ‘Saviour siblings' Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol. 28(5), pp. 289-294.

Example biology dissertation topic 8:

The role of maternal diet in early childhood obesity

Building upon existing academic literature this dissertation focuses particularly upon the issue of maternal diet within the diets amongst Indo-Pakistani nationals living within lower-income housing Bradford and Leicester and contrasts their experiences with maternal diet and childhood obesity with those of their white neighbours in lower-income housing. This is, accordingly, a dissertation that not only looks at issues of biology but also contextualises that study within the realities of day-to-day socio-economics within two deprived parts of Britain's inner-cities. This dissertation therefore uses a mixed method approach to provide a wider understanding to a growing problem within the UK.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Howie, G.J., Sloboda, D.M., Kamal, T. and Vickers, M.H. (2009) ‘Maternal nutritional history predicts obesity in adult offspring independent of postnatal diet', The Journal of Physiology, Vol. 587, pp. 905-915.
  • Stotland, N.E. and King, J.C. (2011) ‘Maternal weight gain during pregnancy and obesity in the offspring', Endocrine Updates, Vol. 30(3), pp. 205-214.

Example biology dissertation topic 9:

How stem cell niches diminish excessive stem cell proliferation

Specialised stem cell niches protect stem cells from stress and provide a ‘nursery' environment that does not result in excessive proliferation of stem cells and uncontrolled cell cycle entry. The mechanisms by which this occurs are of continuing interest and importance, particularly within haemopoietic stem cells. The study undertakes a wide-ranging review of the existing literature on the control of stem cell proliferation and offers the possibility of a limited level of primary laboratory research. Laboratory research is confronted by the challenge of both in vivo and ex vivo cultures.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Eliasson, P. and Jönsson, J-I. (2010) ‘The hematopoietic stem cell niche: Low in oxygen but a nice place to be', Journal of Cellular Physiology, Vol. 222, pp. 17-22.
  • Sugiyama, T., Kohara, H., Noda, M. and Nagasawa, T. (2006) ‘Maintenance of the hematopoietic stem cell pool by CXCL12-CXCR4 chemokine signaling in bone marrow stromal cell niches', Immunity, Vol. 25(6), pp. 977-988.
  • Zhang, J., Niu, C., Ye, L., Huang, H., He, X., Tong, W-G., Ross, J., Haug, J., Johnson, T., Feng, J.Q., Harris, S., Wiedemann, L.M., Mishina, Y. and Li, L. (2003) ‘Identification of the haematopoietic stem cell niche and control of the niche size', Nature, Vol. 425, pp. 836-841.

Example biology dissertation topic 10:

Mental time travel in domestic pets: Diminished or extended through domestication?

The ability of domesticated animals to develop foresight may be diminished as a result of the caring environment in which they live. This dissertation examines whether ‘mental time travel' - episodic memory - in cats and dogs has been blunted through their long-standing involvement with humans. It explores the basis of phenomena such as the dog that waits at the gate for its owner at 6pm each evening, anticipating his regular return, or the cat that catches a particular series of buses, knowing that eventually the cat will be returned to the bus stop nearest its home. This study has implications for the evolutionary development of animals that live in close proximity to other animals with high levels of mental time travel, and considers the effects that this has on the future survival of such animals, with or without the continued presence of humans.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Clayton, N.S., Bussey, T.J., Emery, N.J. and Dickinson, A. (2003) ‘Prometheus to Proust: The case for behavioural criteria for 'mental time travel', Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Vol. 7(10), pp. 436-437.
  • Suddendorf, T. and Corballis, M.C. (2007) ‘The evolution of foresight: What is mental time travel, and is it unique to humans?' Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 30, pp. 299-313.
  • Suddendorf, T. and Corballis, M.C. (2010) ‘Behavioural evidence for mental time travel in nonhuman animals', Behavioural Brain Research, Vol. 215, pp. 292-298.

Example biology dissertation topic 11:

Community structure in Australian Ecklonia kelp forests

Physical disturbances such as those initiated by man or by weather such as storms can a long-term effect on community structures in kelp forests. For example, kelp dislodged as a result of severe water turbulence during a cyclone can culminate in the denuding of canopies. Accordingly, sub-species at lower levels can thrive, which in turn may change the nature of the community structure of the forest as a whole. This study not only examines the existing literature on this topic but undertakes an experiment in an Ecklonia radiata kelp forest off the coast of New South Wales. Limited clearing of the canopy was effected and the results observed over a period of time.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Kendrick, G.A., Lavery, P.S. and Phillips, J.C. (1999) ‘Influence of Ecklonia radiata kelp canopy on structure of macro-algal assemblages in Marmion Lagoon, Western Australia', Hydrobiologia, Vol. 398-399(0), pp. 275-283.
  • Steneck, R.S., Graham, M.H., Bourque, B.J., Corbett, D., Erlandson, J.M., Estes, J.A. and Tegner, M.J. (2002) ‘Kelp forest ecosystems: Biodiversity, stability, resilience and future', Environmental Conservation, Vol. 29, pp. 436-459.

Example biology dissertation topic 12:

The effect of sewage outlet proximity on coral health

The rate of coral reef decline is greater than that of rainforests, yet the former attracts little public awareness. Coral reefs are important in diminishing coastal erosion, support fishing industries and are valuable for tourism. Sewage outfalls increase algal blooms through an increase in nutrient over-enrichment, and higher levels of toxic matter further attack coral health. This dissertation reviews the literature presently available on the topic, and undertakes a study of a coral reef in Hawaii, where the effects of tourism are particularly felt, both with regard to increased sewage as a result of tourism, and the importance of the reefs to tourism.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • DeGeorges, A., Goreau, T.J. and Reilly, B. (2010) ‘Land-sourced pollution with an emphasis on domestic sewage: Lessons from the Caribbean and implications for coastal development on Indian Ocean and Pacific coral reefs', Sustainability, Vol. 2(9), pp. 2919-2949.
  • Lapointe, B.E., Thacker, K., Hanson, C. and Getten, L. (2011) ‘Sewage pollution in Negril, Jamaica: Effects on nutrition and ecology of coral reef macroalgae', Chinese Journal of Oceanology and Limnology, Vol. 29(4), pp. 775-789.

Example biology dissertation topic 13:

Critical evaluation of the methods of testing for cancers

Cancer is a devastating illness that not only causes considerable distress amongst sufferers and their families but costs the state significantly through lost work hours, and increased medical costs. Accordingly, testing that indicates the presence of cancers would be enhanced if it could be done cheaply and quickly, for example through blood tests, rather than individualised (and often later-stage) biopsies. This dissertation examines the different possibilities for more efficient and lower cost testing, and applies a critical evaluation of the effectiveness and accuracy of current tests. Further, it makes recommendations for the maximisation of cost effective testing and offers options for the future that could result in significant cost savings for the NHS.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Cree, I.A. (2011) ‘Improved blood tests for cancer screening: general or specific?' BMC Cancer, Vol. 11, pp. 499.
  • Higgins, M.J. et al. (2012) ‘Detection of tumor PIK3CA status in metastatic breast cancer using peripheral blood', Clinical Cancer Research, not yet published.
  • Rink, M., Chun, F. K.H., Minner, S., Friedrich, M., Mauermann, O., Heinzer, H., Huland, H., Fisch, M., Pantel, K. and Riethdorf, S. (2011) ‘Detection of circulating tumour cells in peripheral blood of patients with advanced non-metastatic bladder cancer', BJU International, Vol. 107, pp. 1668-1675.

Example biology dissertation topic 14:

Predation challenges to pigeon racing: North East England

The sport of pigeon racing is popular in England and recent changes in the level of raptors have created challenges for the sport. This study examines the effect of higher numbers of sparrowhawks, goshawks, and peregrines in the north east of England upon pigeon racing. It undertakes a survey of number of these specified raptors across five common routes for pigeon racing, and determines the level to which attacks have affected numbers of pigeons returning. The dissertation further considers deterrents that may be undertaken beyond the pigeon loft that diminish the level of predation by raptors on racing pigeons, including alternate routes less likely to incur high rates of raptor presence.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Dixon, A. (2002) Attacks by birds of prey on racing pigeons: A report for the Confederation of Long Distance Racing Pigeon Unions of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Lancaster: University of Lancaster.
  • Hinsley, S.A. and Redpath, S. (1996) Impacts of raptor predation on red grouse, homing pigeons and songbirds in Britain. Unpublished report to JNCC/SOAEFD.
  • UK Raptor Working Group (2000) Report of the UK Raptor Working Group. Peterborough: Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

Example biology dissertation topic 15:

Organic methods of control of Dermanyssus gallinae in commercial chicken populations

The poultry parasite Dermanyssus gallinae (red mite) is common during the warmer months in the UK and presents a significant problem for commercial egg and chicken producers. Failure to treat red mite infestations can see decreases in egg reduction, loss of meat on birds, and possibly death. Organic farmers face further challenges, as the use of carbamate and permethrin miticides are not acceptable in organic installations. This paper reviews the efficacy of organic methods such as the use of Chrysanthemum cineariaefolium and Allium sativum by undertaking both a wide-ranging literature review and a small scale primary research project of the treatment of 100 birds in a commercial population.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Abdul-Ghaffar, F., Sobhy, H.M., Al-Quraishy, S. and Semmler, M. (2008) ‘Field study on the efficacy of an extract of neem seed (Mite -Stop®) against the red mite Dermanyssus gallinae naturally infecting poultry in Egypt', Parasitology Research, Vol. 103(3), pp. 481-485.
  • Maurer, V., Perler, E. and Heckendorn, F. (2009) ‘In vitro efficacies of oils, silicas and plant preparations against the poultry red mite Dermanyssus gallinae', Control of Poultry Mites (Dermanyssus), Report to the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, Frick: Switzerland.
  • Maurer, V., Amsler, Z., Heckendorn, F. and Perler, E. (2007) ‘Development of prevention and treatment strategies for parasites in poultry', Third QLIF Congress: Improving Sustainability in Organic and Low Input Food Production Systems, University of Hohenheim, Germany, March 20-23, 2007.

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