Metals in Biotechnology

The details
Life Sciences (School of)
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Monday 13 January 2025
Friday 21 March 2025
03 May 2024


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BSC C700 Biochemistry,
BSC C701 Biochemistry (Including Placement Year),
BSC C703 Biochemistry (Including Year Abroad),
BSC CR00 Biochemistry (Including Foundation Year),
MSCIC098 Biochemistry and Biotechnology (Including Year Abroad),
MSCIC099 Biochemistry and Biotechnology (Including Placement Year),
MSCICZ99 Biochemistry and Biotechnology

Module description

This module will examine the ways in which biological systems use the specific chemical properties offered by elements in the periodic table to perform a wide variety of functions, with a particular focus on biologically relevant metal ions.

The module will introduce the chemical principles that govern the use of essential metal ions in biological systems. Selected examples and detailed case studies will be discussed, to illustrate the functionality of the metal ion(s) once coordinated to proteins or enzymes. The impact of metal ions on human health will also be discussed in the framework of nutritional immunity, where the bioavailability of metal ions is regulated to effectively starve invading pathogens, and in the use of metallo-based drugs.

Module aims

The aim of this module is:

  • To obtain an overview of the essential metal ions in living organisms and gain an insight into their function and applications in biotechnology.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:

  1. Discuss the importance of metal ions in biology and their relative abundances in prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms, understand the principles of metal ion coordination chemistry and the chemical nature of biological ligands that can coordinate a metal ion.

  2. Describe metal ion uptake and storage, in particular, the regulation of cellular metal ion concentrations (homeostasis), through examples of systems employing metalloregulators, siderophores and chalkophores, ferritins and copper storage proteins.

  3. Discuss how metal ions can impart control on protein structure and dynamics through the examples of zinc fingers and metal sensor proteins and how metals can be trafficked ‘safely’ around the cell.

  4. Describe the redox chemistries and catalysis associated with metalloenzymes, such as peroxidases and cytochromes P450s and their applications to industrial biotechnology.

  5. Discuss the roles of copper, iron and molybdenum containing enzymes involved in the global nitrogen cycle.

  6. Describe the roles and function of metal-based gas and redox sensors.

  7. Discuss the role of metal ions in nutritional immunity and disease, and in treatments of disease such as cancers (platinum complexes) and rheumatoid arthritis (gold complexes).

  8. Demonstrate competence in information retrieval and written communication.

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • One 1-hour lecture per week.
  • One revision class before the summer exam.
  • One 3-hour practical (wet-lab).


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography for this year.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Prac Worksheet    30% 
Coursework   Essay    50% 
Coursework   Open Book MCQ    20% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Jonathan Worrall, email:
Dr Penny Beckerson, Dr James Birrell
School Undergraduate Office, email: bsugoffice (Non essex users should add to create the full email address)



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 21 hours, 12 (57.1%) hours available to students:
9 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information
Life Sciences (School of)

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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