MRes in Structural Molecular Biology

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Life Sciences


The MRes in Structural Molecular Biology was established in 2003 in recognition of the opportunity provided by the post-genomic era, in particular, the explosion in 3-dimensional macromolecular structural information. This information not only provides mechanistic and functional insights into biological systems at the atomic level but also forms a framework for research aimed at rational drug design and discovery. Large world-wide initiatives into structural genomics have been established that aim to automate and streamline the structure determination process, thereby increasing productivity and the number of available structures. This presents significant challenges for the biological/biomedical research community, namely: (1) to assimilate the vast amount of available 3-dimensional information (2) to develop an in-depth understanding of underlying methodology, and (3) to use complementary methods to solve important biological problems. In 2006, we were awarded a BBSRC MTG for this course and develop the training of life scientists in mathematical and physical aspects of structural molecular biology. Since its establishment, the course has been a great success in training students to a very high standard in structural molecular biology. The quality of the course is evidenced by the excellent external examiners reports, the quality of research carried out and the enthusiasts and success of the students. The MTG award in 2006 boosted our ability to attract more and better UK/EU students, which is evidenced by the nearly doubling in applicants over the last three years. Among the MTG studentships we have offered, all the students had a 2:1 or 1st class degree and those who completed the Master's course have all proceeded to PhD. The course has evolved during the BBSRC-funded period, which is reflected in a developing partnership with industry that is aimed at providing these skills in an industrial context. We seek to extend this MTG for a second period to strengthen and consolidate training in industrial applications and collaborations. We already have collaborations with GSK, AstraZeneca and Arrow Therapeutics in which student work on joint research projects and receive guest lectures. We propose to add to the list of specialized lectures and tutorials on physical methods in drug discovery and for the MRes students to carry out their 2nd research projects within an industrial setting. The real strength of the course is the diversity of the techniques and comprehensive training offered through two independent research projects from at least two of the following areas: macromolecular structure and function, x-ray crystallography, cryo-electron microscopy, biological NMR, bioinformatics, proteomics, single-molecule measurements, glycobiology, and chemical biology. These research projects provide the students with exposure to state-of-the-art facilities and an internationally-respected research at the interface of life and physical sciences. At the end of the project, the student is expected to summarize their research in a written report in the format of a scientific publication, which is presented as a seminar to a wider audience within the faculty and reviewed by two members of the MRes affiliated research staff. A viva voca is conducted to assess the level of basic understanding for the methodology and techniques used as well as the biological theme. The students are also required to write a literature dissertation. In addition, students attend a selection of course modules to ensure a broad knowledge and understanding of the underlying physical principles and applications in the above research areas. Practical training workshops and tutorials are also offered in specific techniques; including Bioinformatics, X-ray Crystallography, NMR, cryo-EM and thermodynamic measurements. Furthermore, specialist lectures provide key examples of research in an academic or industrial setting.


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