Chemical Biology Educational Opportunities

Small molecules provide a powerful means by which to probe – and ultimately to manipulate – biology. The Chemical Biology Group takes seriously its responsibility to expose students at all levels and in myriad disciplines to the power of small molecule approaches.

The world continues to shrink, and physical distances become less and less meaningful. Asia continues to emerge as a scientific powerhouse, a development that will pay enormous dividends for science. The Duke University Medical Center has worked closely with the National University of Singapore to develop a new Graduate Medical Center in Singapore. The Group is now working with faculty and administrators at GMS to develop an undergraduate Summer in Singapore experience. This unique opportunity will allow a selected group of Duke undergraduates to study in Singapore, discovering the power of chemical biology and how fundamental discoveries in chemical biology are translated to novel therapeutic agents.

Didactic Coursework

A list of seven didactic courses – in physical organic and synthetic organic chemistry, chemical biology, the structure of biological macromolecules, cell & molecular biology, and pharmacology – defines the core competencies required of all students in the program. 

Physical Organic Chemistry (CHM 534)
Bonding and structure, stereochemistry, conformational analysis, linear free energy relationships, substitution, addition, and elimination reactions, carbon reactive intermediates, concerted reactions, photochemistry, carbon alkylation, carbonyl addition, nucleophilic substitution, electrophilic additions, reduction, cycloadditions, rearrangements, main group organometallics, oxidation.

Essentials of Pharmacology and Toxicology (Pharm 233) 
Principles of drug and toxin action, including pharmacokinetics, and receptor-mediated cell signaling.

Structural Biochemistry (BCH 258/259)
Introduction to the principles of macromolecular protein structure and function. Examples of methods of structure determination. Structure/function analysis of proteins as enzymes, multiple ligand binding, protein folding and stability, allostery, protein-protein interactions.

Modern Techniques in Molecular Biology (CMB 297; half-course)
Techniques for protein purification and analysis, and for the study of protein-protein interactions. Molecular biology, including discussions of nucleic acid sequencing and manipulation, cloning strategies, vectors, expression, hybridization and blotting methods, PCR, etc.

Macromolecular Synthesis (CMB 247; half-course)
The macromolecular synthesis course covers basic mechanisms of DNA synthesis, RNA transcription, protein translation, and protein stability.

Organic Synthesis (CHM 532)
Synthetic design, retrosynthetic analysis, synthetic methods, total syntheses.

Chemical Biology (CHM 518)
The use of concepts and methods of chemistry, especially small molecules, to solve problems in molecular and cell biology. The course is organized following the information transfer in biological systems, and emphasizes how chemists can intervene at each step, both to elucidate and control that flow. A major goal is to provide students with relevant background on useful chemical tools and new biological targets. Topics include the chemical synthesis of biological molecules (DNA, RNA, peptides, proteins, carbohydrates, lipids); recognition and modulation of DNA, RNA, and proteins with small molecules; application of small molecules in cell and developmental biology; basics of cell biology, forward and reverse chemical genetics, combinatorial chemistry, molecular target identification, and examples of small molecule application in cell biology.

Statistics for Basic Biomedical Scientists. (Pharm 333)
The use and importance of statistical methods in laboratory science, with an emphasis on specific aspects of experimental design, hypothesis testing, and statistical inference. Central tendency and dispersion, Gaussian and non-Gaussian distributions, parametric and nonparametric tests, uni- and multivariate designs, ANOVA and regression procedures.


Beyond the first year, students will take one or two additional courses based on the direction of their thesis research. A large number of courses are available for students to select from. Representative courses of special interest to program students include:

Interdisciplinary Approach to Pharmacology (Pharm 234/235)
The molecular, biochemical, and physiologic basis of drug action considered in the context of various model systems, including cancer, immunological disorders, and infectious diseases. Cellular Signalling (Pharm/BCH/CB 417) Mechanism of action of hormones at the cellular level including hormone-receptor interactions, secondary messenger systems for hormones, mechanisms of regulation of hormone responsiveness, regulation of growth, differentiation and proliferation, mechanisms of transport and ion channels, stimulus sensing and transduction. Some lectures stress the clinical correlation of the basic course concepts.

Biological Chemistry: Mechanistic Enzymology (CHM/BCH 511) 
Basic enzymology, mechanisms of enzymatic reactions, cofactors, oxidoreductases, C1 chemistry, carbon-carbon bond formation, carboxylation/decarboxylation, heme, pyridoxal enzymes, thiamine enzymes.

Microbial Pathogeneis (MGM 282)
Modern molecular genetic approaches to understanding the pathogenic bacteria and fungi. Underlying mechanisms of pathogenesis and host-parasite relationships that contribute to the infectious disease process.

Virology and Viral Oncology (MGM 252)
Basic principles of viral structure and replication, the use of viruses as models for eukaryotic cell function, and the role of viruses in disease.