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UNIGE launches a 5 ECTS online course on chemical biology!

The next frontier in science has become the re-integration of specialists to help tackle the modern scientific questions using techniques from different disciplines. A 5 ECTS newly launched online course on chemical biology is now available to foster this re-integration. This course aims to represent an effective way to help budding scientists at the master or PhD level to understand how to think and communicate at the interface of disciplines while expanding access to knowledge beyond the classrooms of the UNIGE. A turning point for the institution and the scientific community!


We are pleased to announce that the UNIGE and the NCCR chemical biology have made their first foray into the world of Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs)! An online course on Chemical Biology, is launched today to offer 5 ECTS to a limited number of master or PhD students in chemistry, biology, biochemistry or chemical biology. The SPOC will initially be available exclusively to UNIGE students for the autumn semester but will, in 2021, be open for enrolments to all students within the European LERU network of Universities.


Course description

The course covers the three principle themes of chemical biology which are chemistry, biology and physics, and blends those together. Chemical biology is deconstructed into its basic concepts and repackaged in a logical way to lead the student to what are modern chemical biology concepts in terms of how to think at the interface, apply concepts from different areas to problems that are not solvable by traditional, monodisciplinary means and to describe biological phenomena in a quantitative way. A practical and theoretical knowledge bank of fundamental concepts gradually builds up for each student to send them on their way to understand and design 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.
Course filming in a lab of the NCCR Chemical Biology


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.

Professors Robbie Loewith, Howard Riezman, Nicolas Winssinger, Aurélien Roux and Anne-Claude Gavin from the UNIGE and Yimon Aye from the EPFL, all members of the NCCR Chemical Biology network, 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.


A collaborative project

The creation of this SPOC is the result of a joint effort of several key players. The project was initiated by Prof. Robbie Loewith and carried out at the Faculty of Sciences under the outstanding direction of Dr Marcus Long, Research Associate at UNIGE, assisted by Nolwenn Chavan, Science Communication Officer at the NCCR Chemical biology. PIs, postdocs and junior researchers from the network and Dr. Phaedra Simitsek (NCCR Chemical Biology COO) guaranteed the scientific content and provided logistics support. Pedagogical engineers from the UNIGE MOOC cell accompanied the endeavor while other services, in particular the people who filmed and edited the videos, ensuring the quality of the end product. All this represents more than a year of dedicated effort and hard work, which was achieved despite the obstacles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.


How to enroll to the course?

Enrollment to the class 14CB04 Chemical Biology (5 ECTS) is now open. The registration process for the online course is a two-step process:

  1. Login to the following address to create an account on the platform: . You can use your academic credentials to do so.
  1. Go to the following address to connect directly to the course: will always have to use this address to log in to the course.

The class runs throughout the autumn semester. Only 15 students can enroll per term.

If you have a problem to register, please contact Phaedra Simitsek.

Registration is open until September 28, 2020.
Don’t miss the deadline!

For further details consult the “Programme des Cours“.