Learning outcomes of the course unit
At the end of the class the student should have acquired knowledge and skills related to the molecular organization of living systems, in particular at the cellular level, being familiar with both the chemical aspects of biological molecules and their metabolic transformations, and with the peculiarities of living organisms as systems based on informational processes.
In particular, the student should be able to:
1. Know the relationships between the structure and chemical properties of proteins and nucleic acids and their functions in the context of biological systems; appreciate the centrality of molecular recognition and enzymatic catalysis in all biological processes, and know their specific variations in metabolism, in the maintenance and expression of genetic material, in cellular signal transduction and intra-and inter-cellular communication systems; be able to understand and use the specific language of the biomolecular disciplines combining it with the already acquired one of the chemical disciplines (knowledge and understanding)
2. Recognize the most appropriate methodological approaches for understanding the different biological processes at the molecular level; be able, even on the basis of examples taken during the course, to understand the applicative relevance of the knowledge of biochemical processes, especially in understanding their pathological alterations and the corresponding therapeutic possibilities (applying knowledge and understanding)
3. Expose the results of the studies with competence, rigor and language properties, even to a non-expert public (communication skills)
4. Know how to recognize the methodological path and the type of knowledge necessary for the explanation at a molecular level of metabolism and fundamental cellular processes; evaluate and distinguish between them the different levels of understanding of biological systems that can be accessed through the different disciplinary approaches, in order to critically appreciate the advantages and limitations of the biochemical approach and knowledge (making judgments)
5. Link the different topics with each other and with the basic and related disciplines; deepen the aspects of interest by consulting updated manuals specific to the scientific sector (learning skills).
Fundamentals of general, inorganic and organic chemistry.
Course contents summary
The course represents an introduction to the understanding of biological processes at the molecular level. The structure, properties and functions of biological macromolecules, in particular proteins and nucleic acids, will be illustrated with a constant reference to their cellular context.
In illustrating the structure and function of proteins, particular evidence will be given to the centrality of molecular recognition. To this end, some examples of protein-ligand interactions will be illustrated in chemical detail, and their relevance for biological functions will be explained by their participation in networks of macromolecular interactions.
The structure and function of nucleic acids (DNA, RNA) will be illustrated with emphasis on the informational properties they possess in the context of living systems, and the role of protein-DNA and protein-RNA interactions in genetic information processes. In the unitary perspective outlined above, the salient aspects of metabolism and its dependence on enzymatic catalysis, gene expression and regulation, signal transduction, intra- and inter-cellular communication will be addressed.
Part 1 – Introduction
1.1 Chemistry and life
Part 2 – Biomolecules
2.1 Amino acids, peptide bond, protein primary structure
2.2 Proteins: three-dimensional structure
2.3 Molecular recognition and protein function: selected examples (myoglobin and hemoglobin, antibodies, cell motility proteins)
2.5 Lipids and biological membranes
2.6 Membrane proteins and membrane transport
2.7 Nucleotides and nucleic acids
Part 3 – Enzymes
3.1 Enzyme catalysis and its regulation
3.2 Molecular switches and biological signaling
Part 4 – Metabolism
4.1 Introduction to metabolism: thermodynamics and metabolism, metabolic pathways, “high-energy” compounds, enzymes and coenzymes
4.2 Metabolism of carbohydrates
4.3 Citric acid cycles
4.4 Electron transport and oxidative phosphotylation
4.5 Lipid metabolism
4.6 Amino acid metabolism
Part 5 – Expression and replication of genetic material
5.1 Nucleic acids and biological information
5.2 Nucleic acid structure
5.3 Biosynthesis and degradation of nucleic acids with hints of nucleotide metabolism
5.4 DNA replication, repair and recombination
5.5 Gene transcription, RNA processing and degradation
5.6 Protein synthesis and degradation
5.7 Regulation of gene expression.
Voet, Voet, Pratt, Fondamenti di Biochimica, Zanichelli, 2017 (4th italian edition based on the 5th original edition: Fundamentals of Biochemistry, Wiley, 2016).
Lectures; guided practice of some exercises and problems.
Assessment methods and criteria
The summative assessment of learning is carried out through a final written exam, based on six open-ended questions, each of which is evaluated with a score from 0 to 5. The student must demonstrate that he/she has understood, and is able to apply, the fundamental concepts of each topic covered.
The results of the exam are published on the Esse3 portal within two weeks of the exam date. Students can view the exam, by appointment with the teacher.