Skip to main content

Unit information: Biological Life Chemistry in 2021/22

Unit name Biological Life Chemistry
Unit code CHEM20011
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Crump
Open unit status Not open

Either CHEM10010 Quantitative Chemistry I or CHEM10011 Quantitative Chemistry II
CHEM10013 Building Blocks of Chemistry


CHEM20007 Core Concepts of Chemistry

School/department School of Chemistry
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

The broad scope of the course is to equip students with the necessary knowledge to begin to apply level 4 and 5 chemistry to the understanding of important concepts in the chemical and synthetic biology space. It does not seek to replicate a biochemistry degree but should provide undergraduates in chemistry with the necessary tools to explore the chemistry-biology interface unimpeded by lack of confidence or knowledge.

The specific aims are to:

  1. Provide a thorough under-pinning knowledge of the structure and function of basic building blocks of life in a broad range of biological systems.
  2. Understand the cross-over between laboratory-based chemistry (in vitro) and chemistry in natural systems (in vivo).
  3. Illustrate how chemical and synthetic biology are exploited in biotechnology, industrial processes, and medicinal chemistry.
  4. Broaden students’ horizons in terms of transformational technologies that have driven our understanding of the biological mechansims that underpin life. To introduce societal and ethical issues that pervade work in this area.
  5. Continue to develop students’ abilities to formulate verbal and written arguments, analyse data, and critique the work of their peers. They will be introduced to new software and big data.

These aims will be addressed over four taught courses each with 6 lecture equivalents, supported through a series of workshops and assessed work (outlined in the ‘intended learning outcomes’ and ‘assessment sections, below).

1.Components of Life II.

  1. Proteins –to include enzyme catalysis, kinetics, allostery, protein-protein interactions, protein small molecule interactions, molecular graphics software.
  2. DNA/RNA. Transcription and control. Expanding codon usage, new amino acids, viruses, DNA small molecule interactions, mutation.
  3. Sugars –peptidoglycans, cell walls, bacteria. Lipids -membrane proteins
  4. Metals in biology

2.Nature’s Laboratory and Natural Products.

  1. Translating known chemistry to enzymes -for example generation of enolates, Claisen condensation, SN2 reactions, carbocation chemistry, acetal hydrolysis, metal catalysed oxidoreductases. This will build on concepts taught in Components of Life II
  2. Natural product biosynthesis -Antivirals, antibiotics and therapeutics

3.Technology for Exploring Life Chemistry.

  1. Peptide synthesis
  2. Recombinant proteins
  3. Protein analysis and quantitation -NMR, MS, CD, UV, RP-HPLC

4.Biotechnology, Synthetic Biology and Bio-design.

  1. What is synthetic biology?
  2. Bio-design with proteins and DNA
  3. Mimicking Nature –examples might include PROTACs, CRISPR, mutasynthesis, antibodies and molecular traps
  4. Medicinal Chemistry

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the unit students will be able to:

  1. Explain the structure of the key chemical components of life, their function and inter-relationships.
  2. Explain how these components control chemistry of the natural world and understand the commonalities and differences/limitations of equivalent chemistry in natural or synthetic systems (i.e. chemistry in water versus organic solvent).
  3. Discuss fundamental biotechnology and analytical approaches that are key to investigations in the life chemistry space.
  4. Apply 1 -3 to understanding modern biotechnology applications in synthetic biology, disease and new therapeutics.

Teaching Information

In the components 2 and 3, we have deliberately used the term ‘lecture equivalents’. Chemistry units are often taught using traditional lectures delivered by one academic. As with life chemistry, this unit will diverge from that format and we will apply team teaching with no one academic delivering an entire course (minimum two). The unit will employ a blended learning approach involving a mixture of lecture, online resources, individual student-led enquiry and team-based student led enquiry.

Summary of approximate student workload:

Self-study and continuous assessment: 166 hours

Lectures/lecture equivalents: 24 hours

Tutorials/workshops: 6 x 1 hour (2 x 1 hour for courses 1 and 2 and 1 x 1 hour for courses 2 and 3) + 2 x 2 hour (used for summative assessment)

Total: 200 hours

Assessment Information

Assessment for this unit consists of three summative assessments, outlined below.

Summative assessment 1: (50%) An exam focussing on the ‘Chemical Components of Life 2’ and ‘Nature’s laboratory and Natural Products parts of the unit. These activities will (i) support students’ ability to understand the structure and function of the chemical components on life. This supports ILO 1. (ii) Test their basic understanding of fundamental chemical mechanisms and how Nature applies these. This will be applied to problems outside of routine chemistry and lends itself well to applied problem solving. This supports ILO2.

Summative assessment 2: (25%) Screen cast/Molecular graphics assignment marked by a workshop leader. A 15-minute presentation around a key reaction or biosynthetic pathway and how this has been integrated into a modern chemical synthesis. Examples potentially chosen from Chemical Components of Life 2 component and Nature’s laboratory and Natural Products of the unit. To produce two figures illustrating a protein active site and mechanism/interactions of biological components. Produce a 10-minute presentation incorporating these figures and present this to the workshop group. This assesses student’s progress against ILOs 1 and 2.

Summative assessment 3: (25%) Biotechnology and Applications. 2 x Teams of 5 assigned to a workshop leader for marking. Drawing across all of the courses taught this capstone activity will assess examples of primary literature in the biotechnology space for rigour, application, novelty etc. Will require students apply their knowledge of biological and synthetic chemistry and how both are being exploited and applied. Example, the use of Hypothesis, a web-based software tool for PDF annotation, highlighting, appraising and group discussion of scientific work. An annotated PDF will be produced by one team and comments peer-reviewed by second team (15%) and individual summary (max 1000 words) summary for assessment by workshop leader (10%). This assesses student’s progress against ILOs 1-4, with emphasis on 3 and 4.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. CHEM20011).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.