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Department of Biochemistry


The Lectures

  • 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 (Modules A–D), 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.

Module C, 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.

Module C, 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 Project

There is an eight-week project during the Lent term (commencing on the first day of Full Term) that can be laboratory-based or computer-based. An information sheet of past projects is included in the Course brochure.

The Part II research projects are generally carried out under the supervision of a member of the Department, but please note that not all Group Leaders will host a research project every year due to sabbatical leave. Projects may also be undertaken at other Cambridge locations such as the Gurdon Institute for Cancer and Developmental Biology, MRC toxicology unit, the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, and others. However, while there are many institutes in Cambridge to choose from, it's worth thinking about the impact of commuting time. Students may suggest their own projects at labs external to the Department,  but must submit it for approval by the Course and Project Organisers.  

Peer Groups

Peer Groups in Part II and Part III Biochemistry are arranged by the Department. Part II and Part III students are organised into mixed groups, and each group has a designated academic staff member lead. Peer Groups normally meet once a week and is 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. Designated students generally research the chosen topic and lead off a discussion/debate that is moderated by the staff members. The remaining students in the group will contribute their comments and responses.

  • Integrated scientific essay. 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 also benefit from participating in this exercise.

  • Development of presentational skills. Students will be given the opportunity to make  presentations on scientific papers and their project work.


Student Feedback

The Biochemistry course is run by the Part II Management Committee. This committee considers the minutes of the Part II Consultative Committee, which comprises the members of the Management Committee plus student representatives from the Part II course. 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 Management Committee.

Staff attach considerable importance to student views and a number of modifications to the course have originated as student suggestions.