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Molecular Biology for Discovery Life Sciences


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: Renos Savva
  • Tutors: Renos Savva, Professor Sanjib Bhakta, Claire Bagneris
  • Assessment: an e-lab book (20%), specialist booklet (40%), short-answer online test (15%) and individual viva (25%)

Module description

Combining advanced level molecular biology theory and laboratory practical, this module will cover workflows typical in the early stages of therapeutics research when reliable protocols for obtaining a drug target are paramount. Alongside these parallel learning opportunities, there will be a focus on proficiency with industry-standard electronic lab books and an experience of teamwork around a specialist scientific publishing challenge in which multiple aspects of the publication process will be experienced by all team members. The focus will be on state-of-the-art approaches to drug discovery and other therapeutics centred upon infectious diseases.

Via a combination of on-demand video lectures, interactive seminar discussion, tutorials and laboratory practical classes, learning will be assessed via theory tests in multiple modalities for a thorough learning experience.

Indicative module syllabus


  • The E-lab book: Benchling
  • The specialist booklet: tasks, milestones and deliverables

Lectures and interactive seminars

  • Gene expression circuits in recombinant systems
  • Primer design for PCR methods, including for aims such as restriction-ligation and Gibson Assembly
  • Bioinformatics for molecular cloning
  • Benchling for molecular cloning workflow design and record keeping
  • Background vs target in molecular cloning; blue-white screening vs colony PCR
  • Quality control of target clones: restriction analysis and sequence validation
  • DNA purification methods
  • Bacterial transformation by plasmids
  • Bacterial recombinant expression
  • The T7 recombinant expression system
  • Bacterial cell lysis and partitioning
  • Protein fusion tags
  • Chromatography techniques for protein purification
  • SDS-PAGE and Western Blotting
  • Small molecule drugs and biologics
  • The drug discovery process and approvals pipeline
  • Drug repurposing
  • Viruses and antivirals
  • Microbes, and antimicrobial resistance
  • Therapeutic advances in cancer indications

Practicals and tutorials

  • PCR a gene (with phosphorylated primers)
  • Digest a vector (with blunt end restriction enzyme releasing β-galactosidase gene and phosphatase)
  • Agarose gel electrophoresis, DNA (PCR and vector) clean-up, DNA concentration measurement, overlap extension PCR
  • DNA purification from agarose gel, DNA concentration measurement, DNA ligation, bacterial transformation
  • Plasmid miniprep, Site Directed Mutagenesis via iPCR to introduce a strep-tag-II
  • Colony PCR, plasmid miniprep, agarose gel electrophoresis of colony PCR, buffer making for protein purification
  • Cell lysis from pre-grown small-scale mutant expression pellets, Strep-tag-II affinity chromatography using mini-spin columns
  • SDS-PAGE (electrophoresis), protein concentration by UV, biochemical properties analysis using Benchling, Thermofluor assay +/- drug
  • Thermofluor data analysis; specialist booklet tutorials in groups

Learning objectives

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

  • use the Benchling online lab book and its bioinformatics modules, and similar external online resources (primer design, sequence analysis, plasmid mapping and construct design), to design and record experiments in a recombinant molecular biology workflow
  • design and assemble ad hoc combinations of DNA precursors in silico and then in the laboratory, to build recombinant plasmid constructs capable of directing expression of a recombinant protein
  • categorise different elements of genetic circuits and their functions in optimising expression of recombinant proteins
  • apply standard protocols in DNA purification: (a) from small-scale cultures of E.coli to obtain pure samples of plasmid DNA; (b) from reaction mixtures to remove reactants other than DNA, and (c) from excised fragments of agarose gel after electrophoretic separation of samples
  • apply standard protocols in lysis, partition and affinity protein purification from small-scale cultures of E.coli to obtain pure samples of Strep-tag-II tagged recombinant protein
  • perform and interpret diagnostic and preparative gels and blots in the lab, typical of molecular biology workflows
  • perform and interpret biophysical analyses of a protein with and without bound drugs using the Thermofluor assay
  • define the problems being faced in drug discovery with interpretation and summary of infectious diseases
  • explain and illustrate via synthesis of written and graphical media a wider appreciation of therapeutic approaches across a variety of healthcare indications
  • define and state relevant information recalled as relevant to the material encompassed in the module, namely recombinant methods, molecular biology as a tool for drug discovery, and therapeutic approaches.