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BIO2023 : Microbial Biochemistry

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Fiona Cuskin
  • Lecturer: Professor Frank Sargent
  • Owning School: Natural and Environmental Sciences
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This is a Stage 2 Bacterial Biochemistry module. The aim of this module is to introduce a limited number of specific topics within the area of molecular microbiology and biochemistry (with a focus on bacteriology in particular) that will underpin the more specialised areas that students will encounter in Stage 3 and 4. There is also an aim to develop knowledge of the methods used to study protein structure and function, particularly enzymology. Students will develop skills in practical laboratory techniques related to molecular biology and microbiology, as well as protein isolation and characterisation. Students will also enhance their skills the analysis of data, and presentation and interpretation of experimental data. Completing this module will build knowledge and understanding in the main threads of modern molecular microbiology and microbial biochemistry. The module aims to strengthen students’ skills in evaluation of scientific literature, and in self-directed learning. The lab and report-writing skills developed here will be of value in BIO2033 Bioprospecting.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module has two distinct ‘Theory’ and ‘Practical’ aspects. Prior knowledge of the Theory part is not a requirement for success in the Practical part, however students can use as much of the theory aspects as they see fit in their practical write-ups.

The Theory section comprises 2 ´ 5-lecture blocks, perfectly timetabled without overlap. There will be a coherent 5-lecture block covering bacterial membrane biology, how bacteria sense and respond to their environment, and aspects of chemotaxis and signal transduction. There will be a second coherent 5-lecture block covering the gut microbiota and molecular aspects of energy metabolism carried out by gut bacteria, with an emphasis on carbohydrate active enzymes.

The first practical session will involve a week-long mini-project. Students will work in pairs or small groups wherever possible, and together will work through some simple tasks across five consecutive laboratory sessions. All the groups will work on the same project. They will test a bacterial two-component signal transduction system and perform some mutagenesis and sequence analysis on the system. Practical tasks will involve transformation of Escherichia coli with plasmid DNA, serial dilutions of liquid cultures; analysis of limits of chemical detection in the environment; random mutagenesis of plasmid DNA; and sequence analysis.

The second practical session will involve a week-long mini-project comprising three consecutive lab sessions and some workshops on enzyme kinetics plotting, analysis and interpretation, as well as biochemical calculations. The lab sessions will explore enzyme isolation from cell extracts, SDS-PAGE analysis of proteins, and enzyme assays.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture101:0010:0050 minutes each, may be shorter.
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion210:0020:00Four weeks from end of each project to report submission deadlines.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical53:0015:00Practical molecular microbiology project.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical33:009:00Practical enzymology project.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops41:004:00Scheduled in the same week as the practical enzymology project.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1142:00142:00Study of lectures, Recap, Canvas, original papers etc. Optional drop-in surgeries with staff.
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures – This is intended to be a Stage 2 module for Biology students (40-60 students). Speaking to everyone en masse is pretty much the only way to engage them as a coherent group. Lectures will be designed to stress the specific Intended Learning Outcomes, to highlight the key golden nuggets of knowledge need to meet those outcomes, and to give information on further research that could be done to deepen knowledge and understanding. It is expected that at least some of the material has some connection to the Practical Projects, to facilitate the Lab Reports write-ups.

Practicals – these are intended to be as authentic a lab experience as is possible at Stage 2. There will be an element of teamwork – requiring communication and planning skills. Practical skills in basic microbiology techniques and enzymology will be practiced and perfected over an extended time. Data analysis, data visualisation and report writing will be as close to industry standard as possible.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Practical/lab report1M30Lab Report 1 (1000 words)
Practical/lab report1M70Lab Report 2 (1000 words)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

This module is coursework only. There are two long practical sessions with two assessed laboratory reports. The accompanying lecture material is intended to have some connection to one or other of the Lab Reports. The Lab Reports will be of identical size, shape and format (templates will be provided), however the first has a lower overall weighting (30%) as it will be a first attempt. The second practical will be weighted at 70% (the students having drawn on their feedback from the first report).

This is an authentic assessment as short lab reports (with clearly presented data) are the norm in the biotechnology industry and beyond. A template will be provided and a limit of 1000 words applied, depending on SNES and Faculty guidelines.

Reading Lists