“When nature finishes to produce its own species, man begins using natural things in harmony with this very nature to create an infinity of species.” - Leonardo da Vinci

“About 10,000 years ago, humans began to domesticate plants and animals. Now it’s time to domesticate molecules.” - Susan Lindquist, Director, Whitehead Institute, MIT

Course Meeting Times

Lectures: Two sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Overview

This course, intended for both graduate and upper level undergraduate students, will focus on understanding of the basic molecular structural principles of biological materials. It will address the molecular structures of various materials of biological origin, such as several types of collagen, silk, spider silk, wool, hair, bones, shells, protein adhesives, GFP, and self-assembling peptides. It will also address molecular design of new biological materials applying the molecular structural principles. The long-term goal of this course is to teach molecular design of new biological materials for a broad range of applications. A brief history of biological materials and its future perspective as well as its impact to the society will also be discussed. Several experts will be invited to give guest lectures.


5.07, or 7.05 and permission of instructor.

Required Textbook

Branden, Carl, and John Tooze. Introduction to Protein Structure. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 1999. ISBN: 9780815323051.

To complement the textbook, students will read many papers from the scientific literature; and are encouraged to consult additional reference books listed in the readings section.


Readings are from the course textbook Introduction to Protein Structure, plus additional sources and handouts from the literature. Students will complete one take-home midterm and an original proposal or a summary of literature review. Graduate students are expected to complete additional coursework.


Midterm Exam 30%
Paper 70%

Outline of Topics

  1. Overview of biological materials, its history for shaping human activities, transforming civilization and future prospective. Structure of water and its critical role for biological materials.
  2. Structure and chemical properties of the building blocks of biological materials, amino acids, sugars, nucleic acids and inorganic ions in biological systems.
  3. Principles of protein secondary structures, alpha-helix, 310 helix, beta-helix, beta-sheet, beta-turns, random coils, coiled coils, and others.
  4. Methods and tools used to characterize the molecular structures of biological materials, Circular dichroism, NMR, X-ray diffraction, FTIR, scanning electron microscopy and others.
  5. Molecular structures of several types of collagen and material structure of collagen fibers and gels.
  6. Molecular and material structures of silk (silk fibroin) and spider silk (dragline silk and capture silk).
  7. Molecular structures of keratine and material structure of wool, hair, and fur.
  8. Molecular and material structures of bioadhesives and glues.
  9. Molecular and material structures of biominerals, such as shells, bones and teeth.
  10. Molecular structures of green fluorescence protein, other fluorescent biomaterials.
  11. Molecular and material structures of cellulose, such as wood, grass and vine.
  12. Molecular design, modification of biological materials and self-assembly of various biological substances for materials.
  13. Emerging biological materials and its impact to the society.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2005
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Presentation Assignments with Examples
Written Assignments with Examples