BSc Molecular Biology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Macromolecular Recognition in Biological Systems (L)

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL31341
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Biological Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No


Macromolecular recognition at the structural level is key to driving biological function. You will study a wide range of examples, from small molecule recognition and drug design, through to recognition of proteins and nucleic acids. You will use molecular graphics software to gain a  greater understanding and depth of knowledge in this area.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Proteins BIOL21111 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
BIOL31341 Pre-requisite is BIOL21111

BIOL31341 Pre-requisite is BIOL21111


The unit aims to provide an introduction to macromolecular recognition at the structural level, encompassing the widest range of examples, from small molecule recognition and drug design, through to recognition of proteins and nucleic acids, and how this drives biological function. Drug intervention of molecular interactions is a recurring theme and, where appropriate, interactions are set in the broader context of a cellular ‘system’. The unit also aims to invoke greater understanding and depth of knowledge though the use of a molecular graphics interface.

Learning outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • describe the molecular basis for recognition of small molecule ligands by proteins, and how this knowledge can be applied to drug discovery
  • describe the molecular basis for protein-protein interactions, giving specific examples, plus also relating such interactions to a cellular ‘system’
  • appreciate the role of membrane components in the modulation of biological processes, including signal transduction across the membrane, and the functional organisation of membrane proteins
  • describe the molecular basis and functional genomics of protein-DNA interaction, differentiate between specific and non-specific interactions, and describe some structural motifs involved
  • describe the structural features of protein-RNA interactions, and how they contribute to ribosome assembly and function
  • use molecular graphics software in an interactive manner and use it to draw appropriate conclusions concerning macromolecular recognition
  • develop organisational and presentational skills to prepare an assessed essay


1. Introductory Lecture

  • Covering molecular graphics software, and methods for characterising molecular interfaces from structure

2. Protein recognition of small molecules (3 lectures, 1 graphics workshop)

  • Induced fit and conformational flexibility
  • Allosteric binding
  • Mechanisms of inhibition and applications to structure-based drug design & Drug discovery (including successful examples in pharmaceutical chemical biology)

3. Protein-Protein Recognition (3 lectures, 1 graphics workshop)

  • Molecular basis of protein-protein interactions
  • Physical and evolutionary features of protein interaction sites
  • Regulatory protein complexes and signal transduction modules

4. Membrane components, recognition and signalling (2 lectures, 1 graphics workshop)

  • Interfaces and molecular complementarity in signal transduction across membranes
  • Protein-protein interactions and functional organisation within membranes

5. Recognition of Nucleic Acids (4 lectures and 1 graphics workshop)

  • DNA/RNA recognition – general principles
  • Tools and techniques
  • Nucleic acid recognition from a genomics perspective
  • Examples of protein-DNA recognition
  • Examples of protein-RNA recognition
  • Ribosome assembly and function

6. Revision Lecture

  • To include discussion of mock exam and coursework essay

Employability skills

Analytical skills
eLearning quizzes and essay, both requiring use of computer graphics. The essay requires illustration with prepared atomic structures of molecules to explain key points of relevance to the set essay topic.
Problem solving
eLearning quizzes, analysis of atomic structures to solve set problems in graphics workshops
Students should read around the lecture material including primary research articles.
Written communication
Written examination and 1000 - 1200 word coursework essay
Develop organisational and presentational skills to prepare essay

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 5%
Written exam 80%
Written assignment (inc essay) 15%

2 hour written examination (80%),

1000-1200 word essay with 4 embedded molecular graphics images and 10-15 references (15%),

eLearning (5%)

Feedback methods

Formative feedback will be provided in molecular graphics sessions (and their associated eLearning quizzes) and via annotation of the coursework assessed essay.

Recommended reading

No single textbook covers the whole of this unit but lecturers will make recommendations where a book covers a specific area. The primary reading material will be sourced from articles published in research journals. Lists of key articles will be distributed for each of topic on delivery in lectures.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 18
Independent study hours
Independent study 80

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
James Warwicker Unit coordinator

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