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Aims and Objectives

Part III Biochemistry in the fourth year caters for students who expect to continue with post-graduate research, and leads to a Master of Natural Science Degree (MSci) as well as the usual BA to which all Cambridge undergraduate science courses lead. There is also a Part III Systems Biology course with its own web site.

The course aims to build on Part II Biochemistry to deepen and extend your knowledge and understanding of the scientific method and process and of two further selected specialised aspects by means of a lecture course, and to develop your research skills and knowledge of research techniques and instrumentation by means of lecture courses, seminar series and a two-term research project.

Specialised advanced topics

The course aims to enable students to achieve research level knowledge and integrated understanding within two of the following specialisms:

Module MT1: Molecular recognition and interaction

Lectures present case studies in precisely understood contexts, within broad themes of protein- protein recognition (e.g. in molecular signalling), protein-nucleic acid recognition (e.g. in the RNA degradosome and DNA repair) and protein-small molecule recognition (e.g. in molecular assembly lines and drug screening).

Module MT2: Cell Fate

How the developmental paths of cells are controlled and can be manipulated. Our current biochemical understanding of how aging and life span are influenced.

Module LT1: Contemporary Cancer Studies

This module will look at a series of recent advances in our molecular understanding of Cancer Studies, with a combination of lectures and workshop-style discussions.

Module LT2: Contemporary approaches to receptor- linked disease

The module will show how molecular and systems approaches can further understanding of diseases that perturb metabolic integration, cardiovascular function and neurotransmitter and hormonal signalling. Contexts will include diabetes, obesity, cardiac rhythm disturbance, and thrombotic disease.

Seminar Series

The overall aim is to develop understanding of scientific method and process - the development of hypotheses, and the choice of experimental systems and the design of experimental tests of the hypotheses. There will be two complementary approaches, looking at deployment of methodological resources and discussion of landmark papers.

A: Scientific Methodology Workshops

Topics cover choice and use of model organisms, genome projects, microarrays, proteomics, RNAi, interactomics and measurement of interactions, recombinant protein expression and imaging. Alternates with:

B: Landmark papers

This series gives an opportunity to understand what makes brilliant science, a sense of why current knowledge has accumulated as it has, and what limitations are imposed by available technology.

Each session, led by a member of staff, is assigned a landmark paper (or small group of papers) that represents a leap forward in biochemistry. Papers may be historic, such as such as the proposal of the lac operon, or more recent, such as the discovery of genetic interference by double-stranded RNA. Groups of students will research and make presentations to the class as a whole on various aspects of the paper being considered. These will include the state of knowledge before publication of the landmark paper, and the impact of the paper on biochemistry.

Research skills

The course aims to provide further training in research skills through the provision of a two-Term research project for each student, complemented by lecture courses in these two Terms on applications of biochemical techniques. Students are required to construct twenty minute PowerPoint presentations of their projects and present these to an expert audience in two formal colloquia. In addition there are two journal clubs which guide the student through a detailed analysis of a research paper.

Analytical and Presentational Skills

The course aims to provide the students with analytical and presentational skills. This will be achieved in classes and small group teaching by the student undertaking:

  1. A critical review of a paper in the literature and oral presentation of the analysis.
  2. Research and oral presentation of contemporary biochemical topics.
  3. A problem-solving approach to experimental data.

Objectives

By the end of the course, students should be able to demonstrate advanced knowledge and understanding in two of the following:

  • Proteins, nucleic acids and their interactions: The structural principles of protein-protein, nucleic acid-protein and protein-small ligand interactions; the experimental approaches used to investigate them and the exploitation of small molecules as tools and drugs, or
  • Cell Fate: Including stem cell biology, self-renewal and differentiation; basis of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, motor neuron disease and Huntington’s; theories of cellular ageing and senescence, use of animal models and genetics of ageing

and

  • Cancer studies: Including cell cycle and cancer, use of mouse models, genome-wide sequencing and genome-wide disease association, leukaemia, p53, cancer therapeutics, recombinant antibody generation, commercial drug design and development, in vivo imaging, or
  • Metabolic Disease: Including molecular mechanisms underlying the regulation of fat mass, channelopathies and heart disease, adhesion and immune receptor signalling

Research Skills

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of the objective, methods, results and conclusions of their research project by means of interim and final oral reports to their peers.
  2. Demonstrate knowledge of the written presentation of research through the production of a written report on their research project.
  3. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the application of selected techniques to biochemical research by means of a written examination.
  4. Demonstrate critical evaluation of research data in a written examination.

Analytical, Integrative and Presentational Skills

By the end of the course students should be able to:

  1. Critically analyse and evaluate biochemical research articles.
  2. Research and present orally contemporary biochemical topics.
  3. Research and present orally an analysis of an original paper.
  4. Integrate knowledge and understanding from their whole undergraduate experience of Biochemistry by means of an essay in a written examination.