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Biological Chemistry

The study of the molecular basis of biological processes and their exploitation for human benefit is a major research theme in our department. Elements of organic, inorganic, physical and analytical chemistry are involved in these studies.


Dramatic recent advances in genomics have made possible new insights into the genetic basis for biochemical processes. This is being exploited to enhance our understanding of important human disease conditions, with an emphasis on malaria.


The understanding of the chemical mechanisms of enzyme action is a vital component in the design of highly specific and potent enzyme inhibitors. Such compounds are useful as tools to study the role of enzymes in complex biological processes. In addition, the rational design of ligands that bind to biological macromolecules is a rapidly developing area because of its importance in the quest for compounds with therapeutic potential. Chemists at UW are involved in the study of metabolically important metalloenzymes and the synthesis of functional models for these enzymes.


Over the last decade, recombinant DNA methodology has progressed to the point that virtually any protein can be produced in multi-milligram amounts and that amino acids in a protein can be altered at will. Now, more than ever, the stage is set to study the molecular details governing the properties of proteins and the mode of action of biological catalysts. These exciting possibilities are being pursued in studies as diverse as finding out why bee venom is highly allergenic or how enzymes work at membrane interfaces.


On another frontier, one of the hallmark properties of biological molecules, the ability to assemble into higher order structures, is being modeled in abiological systems. In this work, molecules are designed and synthesized which are programmed to assemble into a defined, ordered structure upon a chemical cue, e.g., the binding of a specific metal. Endowing these structures with recognition and catalytic capabilities are future goals of this work.


The University of Washington provides an ideal environment for studies at the chemistry/biology interface. The University is home to a constellation of premier programs in the health sciences, and research efforts in the health sciences are both outstanding and abundant. There are numerous ongoing collaborations between researchers in Chemistry and those based in departments such as Biochemistry, Biological Structure, Biology, Genome Sciences, Medicinal Chemistry, Microbiology, and Pharmacology.

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