nl en

Metals and Life (MAL)


Elective course in MSc Chemistry and MSc life Science and Technology

Admission requirements

BSc Chemistry or BSc Life Science and Technology


Metal ions such as iron, zinc, calcium, or copper, are ubiquitous in nature. They play a major role in biology, for example for the transmission of action potential along axons, for the transport and control of oxygen-based species, or for the appearance of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or diabetis.
The course is aimed both at Chemistry and Life Science and Technology MSc students. It describes first the binding of metal ions to biomolecules, how different metal ions differentiate from each other, and how different biomolecules and proteins bind to different metal ions. The second part of the course describes two families of proteins: those based on zinc ions, and those involved in the production, transport, and control of dioxygen. The specific role of the metal in these different proteins is discussed. A third part of the course studies how metals are absorbed by living cells and organisms, and transported to where they are needed. Then, the role of metal imbalance in disease is discussed, as well as heavy metal pollution. Finally, the last part of the course is dedicated to inorganic drugs and the use of artificial metal-based compounds for medicine, looking at both imaging and therapy.
The students following this course will be trained to:

  • Be able to extract the good information from the text and figures of a scientific article and answer the question asked

  • Be able to sum up in proper English a range of scientific articles on a single topic

  • Understand the HSAB theory and how biological ligands bind to different metal ions

  • Understand how UV-vis, vibrational, fluorescence, NMR, and CD spectrometry, can be used for analyzing the interaction between metal ions and biomolecules

  • Be able to name a few essential biological roles of metal ions present in living systems, including Fe, Ca, Zn, Mn, Cu, Co, Mg, Na, and K

  • Understand association constants & rate constants for metal binding to proteins, and do basic calculation with them

  • Understand which kind of binding site can bind which metal ions, and how different metal ions differentiate from each other

  • Understand the notions of first and second coordination sphere in metalloproteins

  • Differentiate the bound metal pool from the “free” metal pool

  • Know different mechanisms by which metal ions penetrate in living organisms and cells and are stored

  • Understand how metal ions can cross membranes in bacteria, plants, or mammalian cells

  • Understand the relation between metal (dis)homeostasis and disease

  • Understand oxidative stress and the role played by metals in increasing it (eg Fenton) or reducing it (eg SOD)

  • Know different roles of metal ions in the central nervous system

  • Know how to quantify the toxicity of metal compounds

  • Understand how heavy metal pollution influences human health

  • Know the role of metal-based drugs in pharmacology and be able to cite a few clinically approved compounds and their application(s)

  • Understand the mode of action of platinum-based drugs

  • Distinguish requirements for imaging vs. therapy with metallodrugs

  • Understand chemical biological uses of metal-based compounds

  • Understand the use of radioisotopes for imaging and therapy

Mode of instruction

Lectures (10 sessions), exercises (4 sessions), movie project (1 session), and literature study (home work)


Schedule information can be found on the website of the programmes.


The course is based on the slides presented during the courses and exercises corrected together. The following book is recommended:
Eleanor Crabb, (2009) Metal and life, The Open University RSC Publishing (ASIN: B0068GBYAK).


Written examination (80%) and literature study (20%)

Contact information

Dr. Sylvestre Bonnet


Register for this course via uSis
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for more information on how to apply. All students should register on Blackboard and register to the course via uSis.