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Metals and Life (MAL)


Admission requirements

Core course in MSc Life Science and Technology (Molecular Sciences series). Elective course in MSc Chemistry
This course is intended for students with a BSc MST, LST, or equivalent. Students are expected to have a basic understanding of coordination chemistry (d orbitals, coordination geometries), physical chemistry (binding constants, 1st order kinetics), biochemistry (nucleic acids, proteins, lipids, sugars), and spectroscopy (NMR, UV-vis, emission, infrared).


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 first describes 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 metal-based compounds for medicine, looking at both imaging and therapy.

Course objectives

The students following this course will be trained to:

  • extract information from the text and figures of a bioinorganic chemistry scientific article, to answer questions on it

  • communicate about the role of metals in life in the form of a short video

  • sum up in proper English a range of scientific articles on a single bioinorganic chemistry topic

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

  • use UV-vis, vibrational, emission, NMR, and circular dichroism spectrometry, for analysing the interaction between metal ions and biomolecules

  • understand the biological roles of essential metal ions in living systems, including Mn, Fe, Co, Ni, Cu, Zn, Ca, Mg, Na, and K

  • apply association constants & rate constants for understanding metal binding to proteins, and do calculations 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 the different roles played by metal ions in the central nervous system

  • understand how to quantify the toxicity of metal compounds using dose-response curves

  • understand how heavy metal pollution influences human health

  • understand the role of metal-based drugs in pharmacology and be able to cite a few clinically approved compounds and their applications for human health

  • understand the classical 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


Schedule information can be found on the website of the programmes. Assignment deadlines are communicated via Brightspace.

Mode of instruction

Online lectures (videos + Q&A sessions), on-campus exercise sessions (3), prepare a video (homework)

Assessment method

Written examination (70%) and video assignment (30%)

Reading list

The course is based on the slides presented during the courses and exercises and previous exams corrected together. The following book is recommended:
Biological Inorganic Chemistry, A New Introduction to Molecular Structure and Function (3rd Edition) by Robert Crichton, ISBN: 978-0-12-811741-5, Publisher: Elsevier Science & Technology. A digital license is available for students of this course via the University Library system.


Register for this course via uSis


Dr. Sylvestre Bonnet


According to OER article 4.8, students are entitled to view their marked examination for a period of 30 days following the publication of the results of a written examination. Students should contact the lecturer to make an appointment for such an inspection session.