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SPOC on Chemical Biology

The University of Geneva offers a SPOC on chemical biology, an online course targeting its own students and the ones studying at Swiss and partner universities.


Chemical biology is a burgeoning field that has rapidly risen to prominence. This surge of interest has been fuelled by chemical biology’s applicability to understanding critical processes in live cells or model organisms in real time. This success has arisen because chemical biology straddles a nexus between chemistry, biology, and physics. Thus, chemical biology can harness rapid chemistry to observe or perturb biological processes, that are in turn reported using physical assays, all in an otherwise unperturbed living entity.


Course description

The SPOC (Small Private Online Course) on Chemical Biology is a pathway to understanding interdisciplinary research and modern scientific practices in chemical biology, which straddles a nexus between chemistry, biology, and physics. Here, chemical biology is deconstructed into its core components, and repackaged in a logical way. In the process, we build up for each student a practical and theoretical knowledge bank that will set these students on their way to understanding and designing their own chemical biology experiments.


List of modules

  • The course starts with an introductory module which aims to unite the various disciplines that have come to be incorporated into chemical biology: chemistry, physics and biology.
  • Fluorescence (and aspects of microscopy) is then presented as the general language used to read out biological phenomena as diverse as protein localization, membrane tension, surface phenomena, and enzyme activity.
  • The next module goes into more applied biological problems, using TIRF microscopy to study how the PRC2 complex interacts with chromatin and studying TORC2-specific signaling pathways and their regulation of/by membrane tension.
  • The next module discusses general points to consider in fusion protein design and basic ways to modify specific protein domains using chemical biology and focuses on applications, such as SNIFITS (metabolite sensors) and T-REX (lipid electrophile modification strategies).
  • Photocaged lipids are highlighted in the following module, looking particularly at sphingosine and G-REX (profiling of lipid derived electrophile sensors electrophiles).
  • Last but not least, screening methods are showcased on a more global scale by first addressing peptide nucleic acid mediated screening platforms and later discussing cell-based screening for STING inhibitors.


Features of the online course

A large number of quizzes and graded problems have been crafted to help the student learn and apply knowledge in real-world settings. Evaluation means include fortnightly quizzes, fortnightly exercises and an individual written research proposal that seeks to deploy the chemical biology methods studied.

Professors Robbie Loewith, Howard Riezman, Nicolas Winssinger, Aurélien Roux and Anne-Claude Gavin from the UNIGE and Yimon Aye from the EPFL, feature in the course as instructors to provide a rounded perspective from several disciplines. Original and unseen data generated in labs from the NCCR network are extensively used.

A bonus feature is represented by the in-the-laboratory videos presenting a diverse array of modern chemical biology techniques to help the student achieve a fundamental understanding of the field that is broadly applicable, i.e. understand how science is really done.

Overall the course offers about 30 pages of original written material especially prepared for the course to help to transmit the needed information. All these aspects make this course unique for master students currently undertaking chemistry, biology, biochemistry or chemical biology classes as part of their university curriculum.


How to enroll to the SPOC on Chemical Biology?

  • Prerequisites: Knowledge in the fields of chemistry, biology and/or biophysics
  • Level of study: MA / PhD
  • Language: English
  • The class runs throughout the autumn semester. Only 12 students can enroll per term.

To register to the SPOC you need to be:

Enrolment is open for two weeks shortly before the start of the autumn term via an admission platform. Stay tuned by mid-August to access the link.

For further details about the course, consult the “Programme des Cours“.