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Metals and Life (MAL)


Admission requirements

BSc Chemistry or Life Science and Technology


Metal ions such as iron, zinc, calcium, or copper, are ubiquitous in nature. They play a major role e.g. for the transmission of action potential along membranes or for the transport and control of oxygen. Metal dishomeostasis is involved in many diseases. The course describes the binding of metal ions to biomolecules, the structure and function of a selection of metalloproteins, the uptake, transport, and storage of metals in biological organisms, and the effects of metal imbalance on human health. The use of metals in medicine for imaging and therapy form the last part of the course.

Course objectives

After the course the student should be able 1) to read and understand 95% of the scientific literature on bioinorganic chemistry; 2) to explain the role of metal ions in biology by giving 2 or 3 practical examples; 3) to distinguish the use of medicinal metal complexes for therapy and for imaging; 4) to be able to read critically scientific articles about the toxicity of metal-containing chemicals and wastes and to spot conflicts of interests in scientific publications; 5) generate questions and answers (MCQ) related to bioinorganic chemistry.


Course 1: Part 1=Binding of biomolecules to metal ions.
Course 2: Part 1=How do metals ions distinguish from each other?
Course 3: Part 2=Selected examples. Zinc proteins: from structure to function.
Course 4: Exercises on part 1.
Course 5: Part 2=Selected examples. O2 production, transport, and uses.
Course 6: Part 3=Uptake, transport of iron. Metals and membranes.
Course 7: Part 4=Metals and diseases. Metal dis-homeostasis.
Course 8: Part 4=Metals and diseases. Heavy metal pollution.
Course 9: Part 5=Metals in therapy: cisplatin.
Course 10: Part 5=Other metals in therapy.
Course 11: Part 6=Metals in imaging.
Course 12: Exercises on part 4 and 5.
Course 13: Exercises on exam of last year.

Mode of instruction

Lectures and correction of exercises available on Blackboard.

Assessment method

The final grade (on 10 points) is split into two parts: – The first part (2 points) consists in a literature study on heavy metal pollution. The students pair up, chose a topic in a list, and prepare a document containing: 1) a 450 word abstracts describing the industrial accident; 2) a time line of the event; 3) two original pictures and two selected pictures from the literature (with sources); 4) a list of at least 5 references; 5) at least one reference showing obvious signs of conflict of interest. – The second part (8 points) consists in a 3-hour written exam based on one or two articles from the scientific literature. Experimental data are shown and questions are asked, both on the interpretation of the data, and on the knowledge/understanding of the student about the course.


It is used as a standard way of communicating with the students, both for the slides, the exercises, and the answers to the exercises. Former exams are published on Blackboard as well, together with the answers, to allow the students to prepare.

PeerWise is also used to encourage the student 1) generating questions and answers about the topic and put them online; 2) preparing the exam before the last week before the exam; 3) activate a bit.

Reading list

Slides are provided that form the basis of the course.

A book is indicated as a possible complement to the slides : “Metal and life”, Eleanor Crabb, 2009, The Open University, RSC Publishing, 31 €

The students are highly encouraged to read the scientific literature about the topic, references are indicated all along the course (on the slides).


Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the “Prospective students website”: for information on how to apply.
All students should register on Blackboard and register to the course.

Contact information

Dr. Sylvestre Bonnet
MCBIM group
Room HB416b
Tel: +31 71 527 4260