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Department of Biochemistry


Teaching arrangements for 2020-2021

Due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and government guidance, we have had to make changes to some course components in order to mitigate against risks to health and to give you the best possible academic experience in the circumstances. Nevertheless, the learning objectives of the course are unchanged. We will continue to monitor and respond to the changing public health situation, and the following planned changes may therefore need to be altered at short notice.

The planned changes are:

  • All lectures will be delivered online via Moodle.
  • We hope to host Departmental seminars on Zoom and students will be invited to these and the weekly Friday Faculty talks (also on Zoom).
  • Group supervisions will still be provided, although the weekly format will be variable and some weeks will run via Teams/Zoom.
  • Specialist supervisions will be delivered to small groups via Teams/Zoom.
  • Essential Methods and Skills sessions will be delivered using variable formats.
  • Data handling sessions will be delivered to small groups on Teams/Zoom.
  • Part II Biochemistry: research projects will run and will allow you to achieve the same learning outcomes. However, these will be reconfigured to allow for social distancing and availability of space. Hours spent at the bench may be reduced as a result.
  • Part II Biochemistry: arrangements for the prepared essay, 'Science that affects society' remain unchanged.
  • Part II BBS: arrangements for the BBS dissertation remain unchanged.

More details of how the course will be delivered, including induction events, will be provided later. We hope to meet you in person as circumstances allow.


General structure of the course

Specific course details are outlined in Aims and Objectives.

There are three main strands to the teaching: lectures, research work and group supervisions, including Journal Clubs. Students also attend specialist supervisions.



Lectures start at the beginning of the Michaelmas Term and continue throughout the Lent term. There are no lectures during the Easter Term, i.e. after the Easter Vacation: the early part of that term is available for general reading and revision. Lectures typically take place at 8.45 am or 9.00 am and at 10.30 am.  

The course is grouped into four 24 lecture modules, one of which has a branched structure to provide internal choice. In addition there is a series of methods and skills sessions and students are expected to attend the Departmental Research Seminar Series.

Module A: Structural and Chemical Biology

This module will discuss how modern techniques of structural and chemical biology are being used to solve biological problems. The topics will draw on multiple aspects of macromolecular biochemistry including nucleic acid structure and interactions, signaling proteins and membrane proteins. Finally new approaches to studying enzyme kinetics will be discussed and how the knowledge so gained can be used in drug discovery and protein design.

Module B: From Genome to Proteome

This module will examine all steps in eukaryotic gene expression from chromatin accessibility through to translation and mRNA turnover. Particular emphasis will be paid to: Regulation of gene expression, the co-transcriptional nature of RNA processing, functional coupling between different steps in gene expression, the impact of global and “systems” level approaches to understanding gene expression.

Module C: Stem - the Dynamic Cell

The first half of this module is a common stem of cell biology, whose theme is the dynamics of proteins and membrane- bound organelles in eukaryotic cells. The stem is followed by a choice between two branches concerned with, respectively, exploitation of plants and microorganisms for energy provision and molecular microbiology of infectious disease.

Branch 1 - Bioenergy

The bioenergy option aims to explore how photosynthesis in plants and algae can be harnessed for renewable energy production, whether directly using photovoltaic systems, or indirectly through production of oils or other forms of biomass such as cell walls. The module also looks at the conversion of biomass to other fuels.

Branch 2 - Molecular Microbiology of Infectious Disease

The molecular microbiology option explores prokaryotes as agents of disease and as source of antibiotics. It also examines virulence and resistance. Molecular aspects of eukaryotic protozoan pathogens are also studied.

Module D: Cell Cycle, Signalling and Cancer

The themes of this module draw on most modern biological techniques and impinge on core cell and molecular biology topics of signaling, DNA repair and apoptosis among others.

Methods and skills

These feature key methods such as bioinformatics. Also included are data handling classes using past examination papers as core material to study approaches to data analysis and interpretation. Teaching of transferable laboratory and communication skills (such as graphic illustration, record keeping, data analysis, database searching and essay and report writing) are embedded in the course.


Research Work

There is an eight-week project during the Lent term (commencing on the first day of Full Term) that can be laboratory-, literature-, or computer-based. These projects will be carried out under the supervision of a member of the teaching staff or senior research staff.  An information sheet of past projects is included in the Course brochure.



Group supervisions

Group supervisions in Part II and Part III Biochemistry are arranged by the Department. Part II and Part III students are organised into mixed groups (students and staff members from the same college will be grouped together).  Each Group has a designated senior member as Leader, responsible for structuring the Group Supervisions. Groups normally meet once a week. Group supervisions are an essential part of the taught course.

Topics addressed include

  • Journal Clubs It is essential to acquire the ability to source, read and evaluate original papers; reliance should not be placed on review articles alone. The Journal Clubs help to develop these skills.

  • Reviewing particular experimental techniques or selected areas of research.

  • Critical evaluation of data.

  • Science that affects Society. This can take the form of a supervision exercise structured and moderated by the staff members, where designated student discussants research the topic and lead off a debate. The remaining students in the group then input their comments and responses.

  • Integrated scientific essay. These groups contain both Part II and Part III students, some time will be devoted to rehearsing the skills needed to tackle the Part III  integrated scientific essay drawing on the overall scope of the landmark papers. Part II students will benefit from participating in this exercise.

  • Development of presentational skills. Students will be given the opportunity to make  presentations on their project work, the  problem-based learning bioinformatics exercise and on scientific papers

Specialist supervisions

Students are expected to arrange specialist supervisions with lecturers on topics that particularly interest them. These are an important part of the course. These are usually conducted in small groups (3-5 students; larger ones may be appropriate in some situations).



At the Part II level do not expect to receive the type of comprehensive lecture handouts that you were given in Part I of the Tripos. In Part II and III, lecturers will provide at the start of their lectures short lists of references to the relevant literature with titles. Members of the class are not necessarily expected to read all the papers included in these lists. With this in mind, the lecturers are asked to give an indication of their contents, and annotate the list to indicate which references they regard as the more important; they and everybody else in the Department are aware that the literature of Biochemistry is so large that nobody can effectively cover the whole subject. The references provided will allow individual members of the class to pursue different topics down to basic publications, and thus to read in detail about an aspect that may particularly interest them.


Departmental Seminars

The talks are usually given by an outside speaker and consist of a paper on original research followed by a general discussion. Members of the Part II class are expected to attend the Departmental Seminars and are strongly encouraged to take part in the discussion. A list  can be found on the Departmental web site.


Staff-Student discussions and consultation

The course is run by the Part II/Part III Management Committee. This committee considers the minutes of the Part II/III Consultative Committee which comprises the members of the Management Committee plus student representatives from the Part II and Part III courses. More formally, questionnaires are provided on the various components of the course, and the responses are considered in the first instance by the Part II and Part III course Management Committee. Staff attach considerable importance to student views and several modifications to the course have originated as student suggestions.



The University Careers Service will talk to the class about career opportunities, the kind of choices biochemists have made in recent years, where to look for jobs/studentships and what employers/supervisors want to see in applications.  The Careers Service provides (free) seminars and workshops on career choice, interviews, CVs, and particular career options, as well as one-to-one consultations.

The Biochemistry department postgraduate and research pages carry information about current research and post-graduate research opportunities. Students apply for such posts themselves, but members of staff will be pleased to advise.