CHEM40050 Metals in Biology

Academic Year 2024/2025

This module "Metals in Biology" is designed to give the student an introductory overview of the relationships between metals and biological (bacteria, animals, plants) systems at the molecular level. The topics in this course are interdisciplinary in nature and as such, for students in the medicinal chemistry program, an introduction to transition metals and redox chemistry is provided, whereas chemistry students are introduced to amino acids, proteins and other common biologically important molecules.
The first part of the course explores the interactions of exogenous metals with the body, provides insight into some of the most important metal-based therapies, diagnostics and toxins. Relevant historical aspects of metallodrugs and state-of-the-art developments are discussed. Students will learn about the steps in how metallodrugs are developed from bench to bedside, interactions of metals and complexes with key biomolecules and modes of action of several classes of therapeutics. An understanding of the relationship between properties and structure with medicinal effects will be developed. Case studies will include Au-based antirheumatic drugs, Pt- and Ru-based anticancer drugs, radioimaging and MRI contrast agents and antimicrobial metallodrugs.
The second half of the course examines the role and function of various transition metal based enzymes in natural biological systems. An in-depth description of the metalloenzymes involved in gas transportation including myoglobin and haemoglobin, hemerythrin and the copper-based system - hemocyanin. The important roles of P450 in detoxification and vitamin B12 are examined, in addition to the very important class and ancient class of metalloenzymes - iron-sulfur clusters. Finally, various zinc-based enzymes including carboxypeptidases, carbonic anhydrase, and SOD are discussed. Students learn about the structure, electronic properties mechanisms and spectroscopic details of these metalloenzymes. The first part of the courses examines the roles of metals and elements in the various cycles found on Earth.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

For part A, students will be able to:
- Relate important chemical and physical properties associated with transition metals to their roles in medicine and biology: (including oxidation state, d-electron configuration, CFSE, geometry, HSAB)
- Identify and classify interactions between metals and biological ligands, and recognise medicinal implications of metal ions in the body (toxicity, imbalance)
- Analyse and discuss the structure, activity and properties of selected metallodrugs against disease including cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, bacterial infection
-Analyse and discuss the use of metal complexes in medical imaging (Tc, Gd)

For part B, students learn about the general structure and functioning of metalloenzymes including the ligands that support the metals, i.e., porphyrins and amino-acids. Students learn about key biological molecules and how they integrate with metalloenzymes and the general mechanism by which the metalloenzyme operates, including redox properties and associated energy transport molecules. Finally, some key spectroscopic data that enabled chemists to identify key aspects of the mechanisms. Several organic transformation reactions vital to biological functioning are examined.

Indicative Module Content:

Metalloenzymes, chemical and physical properties of transition metals, metal-based drugs.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours




Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Students are required to complete two-trimester tests with dates announced within the course. An example problem set is provided to assist students with the preparation for the final exam. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations
Learning Recommendations:

This module is intended for students in the final year of an Honours Chemistry degree program or post graduate students in a Chemical discipline. Other students wishing to take this module must have a comparable background in chemistry and must consult the School.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
CHEM40830 - Metals in Biology, taught MSc

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade

Not yet recorded.

Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Spring No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Group/class feedback, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Trimester tests are graded with model solutions provided on Brightspace.

Rosette M. Roat-Malone, Bioinorganic Chemistry: A Short Course, 2020, Wiley.
Wolfgang, Kalm. Bioinorganic Chemistry -- Inorganic Elements in the Chemistry of Life: An Introduction and Guide, 2013, Wiley.
Ei-Ichiro Ochiai. Bioinorganic Chemistry: A Survey. 2010, Academic Press.
Dieter Rehder. Bioinorganic Chemistry, OUP Oxford, 2014.
Stephen J. Lippard. Principles Of Bioinorganic Chemistry. 1994, University Science Books.
James C. Dabrowiak. Metals in Medicine, 2017. Wiley.
Marcel Gielen and Edward R. T. Tiekink. Metallotherapeutic Drugs and Metal–Based Diagnostic Agents: The Use of Metals in Medicine, 2005. Wiley.
Name Role
Dr Joseph Byrne Lecturer / Co-Lecturer