Bioinorganic Chemistry

Unit code: CHEM31331
Credit Rating: 10
Unit level: Level 3
Teaching period(s): Semester 1
Offered by School of Chemistry
Available as a free choice unit?: N




The unit aims to:

  • Demonstrate how chemistry has contributed to our understanding of complex biological processes
  • Increase awareness of the contributions of metal ions in biology and medicine
  • Provide a structural framework for understanding the chemistry of those metal ions
  • Show how small structural changes at a metal centre can orchestrate molecular signal transduction
  • Provide an appreciation of the structural precision obtained by X-ray crystal structure analysis.
  • Illustrate the use of elements not normally found in Nature in therapy and imaging as well as possible problems of toxicity
  • Relate the co-ordination chemistry of metal centres in proteins with that in small molecules
  • Explore the role of metal ions in physiological processes including medicine and disease diagnosis


Metals in Biology and Medicine (Dr Louise Natrajan, 7 Lectures and 1 Workshop)

  • Anticancer metallo-drugs
  • Ruthenium and gold drugs
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging and diagnostic imaging
  • Radiopharmaceuticals and optical imaging

Metalloenzyme Chemistry (David Collison, 7 Lectures and 1 workshop)

  • The chemistry of the nitrogen cycle
  • The coordination environment and reactivity of iron, molybdenum and copper ions in biology
  • Enzymes of the nitrogen cycle
  • Redox partners and enzyme complexes

Metal Ions in Biology (Dr Imogen Riddell, 7 lectures and 1 workshop)

  • Regulation (uptake and management) of metal ions in biology (Na, K, and Fe)
  • Utilisation of metal ions in biology; discussion of structural, catalytic and mobile ions (Zn)
  • Biomineralisation (Ca)
  • Metal ion toxicity (Hg, Pb, Cd)

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course, in the context of metal ions in biology and medicine, you will be able to:

  • Analyse the chemistry of a given metal ion
  • Use results of physical measurements to describe chemical properties
  • Explain how a given metal ion can perform different functions
  • Analyse numerical data to explain biological function
  • Explain biological catalysis
  • Demonstrate how control of structure at a metal ion defines its properties
  • Demonstrate how chemical biology, specifically design of small molecule probes, has enabled researchers to understand complex biological processes  

Knowledge and understanding

  • Demonstrate an understanding of how metal ions are selected for use by biology, or in medicine, and explain how they are used.


Intellectual skills

  • Analyse and interpret spectroscopic and structural data relating to inorganic compounds of interest.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Problem-solving skills (rationalisation of roles of metal ions in biology and medicine via hypothesis, experimental design, data analysis and conclusions)
  • Communications skills (written communication in the technical language of chemistry and biology)
  • Numeracy and mathematical skills (e.g. error analysis of geometric parameters,)
  • Analytical skills (role of a metal ion is dependent on multiple chemical and biological concepts that are assembled to produce an overall effect)
  • ICT skills (e.g. use of Protein Data Bank to view active metal sites)

Assessment methods

  • Written exam - 100%

Recommended reading

Further reading for those seeking to learn beyond the core material:

Feedback methods

Workshops and a pre-examination workshop, Office Hours time-tabled each week by the current lecturer, lecturers available for group tutorials on request and for providing comments on written answers to past examination papers. Summative assessment.






Study hours

  • Assessment written exam - 2 hours
  • Lectures - 21 hours
  • Practical classes & workshops - 3 hours
  • Independent study hours - 74 hours

Teaching staff

Imogen Riddell - Unit coordinator

David Collison - Unit coordinator

Louise Natrajan - Unit coordinator

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