The Molecules of Life - Web Lectures

Choose a book from the shelf and it will bring you to the corresponding web lecture.

The contents of each book is summarized below.

Special Topic  -   How to make a cell membrane

The biochemistry&biophysics information presented here has been developed for upper division courses for the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). The section on bioelectricity of cell membranes is the result of a course program on electrophysiology for 1st year medical students at UC Riverside (joint program with UCLA School of Medicine). The biotechnology courses on drug design and membranes as therapeutic targets have been developed for the UCSD Extension Bioscience Department. The Principles in Biology is a summary of a general biology class at Southwestern College, Chula Vista, California, a community college serving a diverse student body in San Diego county. This latter course requires little background in biology. It is the intention of to provide easy to understand information about the biochemical basis of life. This web site, therefore, is not intended as a textbook, but as a guide to find relevant information about the current state of thinking in biology and medicine.


The Biology of Life
This introductory course has been developed for non-science majors at Southwestern College, Chula Vista, California, and offers a short, but broad overview of the important aspects of modern biology, from the chemistry of life, to the structure of cells, from the genetics of inheritance to the evolution of species.

Principles in Human Physiology
Physiology is the science that describes and explains how the bodies of living organisms work. Physiology uses a systematic approach to describe the function of the human body.


The Chemistry of Life - Metabolism
This part has been developed as a UCSD upper division course in Metabolic Biochemistry, 1999, 2000

This link provides an introduction to metabolic pathways and the use of public databases to retrieve information about biological molecules, enzymes, DNA and protein sequences, protein structures, and the occurrence of homologues, genes or proteins of the same type, but in different organisms. Based on the current genome sequencing projects, the future in biology lies in the elucidation of cell and organism specific usage of groups of proteins (pathways).

The Science of Food - Nutrition
This class is an introduction to various aspects of nutrition and the human body, the cellular mechanism of metabolic use of nutrients, and the structure and properties of nutraceuticals and functional foods.

How Proteins Work - Images of Biological Macromolecules
The three dimensional structures of thousands of proteins and of DNA can be accessed by several public databases, all of which contain almost identical information. This link provides a short list of selected structures than can be viewed by using your browser (you need free software Chime and/or Rasmol). To read more about the biochemistry of biological macromolecules, their structure, function, and role in disease, follow the biotechnology link on molecular interactions and drug design above. Follow also the 'Essential Readings' list of the drug discovery lecture.


A biophysical overview -Structure and Function of Biological Membranes
This reader contains information about the structure and function of biological membranes and membrane proteins. It is tailored to a physical view of macromolecules and the many techniques to study them. It explains the importance of microscopic and macroscopic properties of biological systems. The physics of microscopic properties, i.e., molecular structures and interactions, is quantum and statistical mechanics. Experimentally, the are not easily accessible and biophysical techniques relay on the measurement of macroscopic properties like temperature, heat, concentration gradients, current voltage relationship, or capillary forces (surface tension). Basic structure and function of biological membranes are discussed on principles of physical biochemistry including chemical equilibrium, self assembly properties of membranes, channel forming peptides and transport and signaling processes vital for the function of biological activity in humans. Several techniques will be discussed including the molecular interpretation of thermodynamic quantities, light scattering, circular dichroism, and fluorescence spectroscopy. Membrane transport studies are introduces both at the level of experimental analysis as well as theoretical models of ion flux through model channels. Several classes of membrane transport processes are discussed including their role in diseases.

A medical view of membrane proteins - Membranes as Therapeutic Targets
Membrane proteins function as gateways between cells and their surroundings. Molecular transport, energy conversion, and receptor signaling are the major mechanism of action. Due to their importance in physiology and cell surface location, membrane proteins are preeminent therapeutic targets for the treatment of metabolic, immunological, vascular, endocrinological and neurological disorders and prevention of viral infections. In this course, students will gain an understanding of the structure-function relationship of membrane proteins (e.g. ion channels, transporters, G-protein coupled receptors, tyrosine kinase receptors, and membrane bound enzymes) in health and diseases. This course requires basic knowledge of proteins and the biology of the cell.

Membranes of brain and muscle cells - Bioelectricity of Membranes
A major function of cell membranes is to store energy and to generate electrical signals used for communication and information transmission. This lecture gives an introduction into basic electrical properties, permeability of membranes and how they work like batteries by generating electrochemical energy that can be used to do mechanical (muscle contraction, movement of flagella and swimming) and chemical work (photosynthesis, respiration) as well as generate information (firing patterns of nerve cells) in the nervous system of higher animals.

Why we know what we know about membranes - The fluid-mosaic model of cell membranes
The structure of cell membranes is captured in the fluid mosaic model of cell membranes proposed in 1972 by Singer and Nicolson. This model ended some 30 years of controversy about the structure and location of membrane proteins in this thin lipid films surrounding each cell. The history of research leading to this model is a good example of the development of a scientific fact. The model has withstood all tests of time. This is likely the result of the cautious approach of its authors, who have deliberately kept the model simple. The achievement of the model was the unifying of a controversial field where multiple models were proposed. It is in this sense a synthesis of three main ideas: that membranes are lipid bilayers, that membranes are mosaic composite of lipid and protein domains, and that membrane components are free to diffuse within the plane of the bilayer (fluidic). The success of the model hinges on this simplicity and it does not capture all known phenomenon associated with biological membranes.

Drug Design

How Drugs are Discovered - Fundamentals of Rational Drug Design
This basic introduction into the structure and function of proteins and nucleic acids shows in a clear and understandable way the information about the molecular mechanisms that drive the Human Genome Project, rational drug design used by the pharmaceutical industry to shorten the cycle of drug development based on the findings of novel genes form Genome Projects, and the broad scope of experimental system that are studied at academic departments all over the world. Modern biology attracts biologists, chemists, physicists, cognitive scientists, and philosophers to tackle the enormous task of bridging the knowledge at the microscopic level (described here) with the physiology, psychology, and ecology of organisms and ecosystems.

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Copyright  © 2000-2012 Lukas K. Buehler