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University of Cambridge

Systems Biology Centre

The Department of Biochemistry, Univ. of Cambridge

Research into biological phenomena at the molecular level has provided much of the revolutionary science of the past twenty years. What Frederick Gowland Hopkins saw to be of growing importance in 1914, when he established the Department of Biochemistry in Cambridge, proved to be fertile ground for Nobel Laureates Fred Sanger, Rodney Porter and Peter Mitchell in the Department forty years later, and for Tim Hunt in the 1980s. The same vision drives our science now. New developments in molecular and cell biology, together with the new ‘omics sciences: genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics, create challenging opportunities. The excitement of new discovery in our subject is set to continue well into the twenty first century.

The Department of Biochemistry is a member of the School of Biological Sciences and is one of the largest departments in Cambridge - around 400 research and support staff - with an internationally competitive research programme. The Department’s research contributes to the themes that describe the research in the School. We have attracted many outstanding independent research fellows with funding from the Wellcome Trust, British Heart Foundation, BBSRC and MRC, and several of our senior staff have been seconded to prestigious fellowships. The Department houses facilities funded by Wellcome Trust, BBSRC and MRC for modern biomolecular research, including an 800MHz NMR facility, modern X-ray laboratories, core facilities for mass spectrometry and plasmon resonance, advanced services for protein and nucleic acid sequencing. We have collaborated with the Department of Genetics in establishing the Systems Biology Centre, adjacent to the Sanger Building, which houses array technologies, proteomics and informatics, and we have established metabolomics elsewhere in the Department. We also participate in the new Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research. These new developments underpin research in a range of different biological processes from molecular enzymology, through cell signalling and control of gene expression, to molecular microbiology, plant molecular biology and biofuel research, cancer and cardiovascular biology.

The undergraduate teaching programme is also changing and expanding. We continue to develop and improve our contributions to Part I of the Medical and Veterinary Sciences Tripos (MVST) and Natural Sciences Tripos (NST). Our third year, Part II, is a very popular option, and we were the first biological science department in Cambridge to introduce a Part III as a fourth year for biochemists. This has been a resounding success and will no doubt be taken up elsewhere. Equally pleasing has been the award of 24 out of 24 by the QAA for the quality of our teaching.

Our PhD training programme has also been radically improved. We have introduced a system of second supervisor/advisor; we have a careful monitoring of progress, and we offer more opportunities for both specialised training and learning transferable skills. Much of this has been implemented through the Graduate School of Life Sciences.

The Department is located in two buildings located on Tennis Court Road. The "Sanger Building" on the Old Addenbrooke’s site was opened formally in November 1997 by Fred Sanger. Contributions to the funding of the Sanger Building were generously donated by Peter and Paula Beckwith, by the Wolfson Foundation, by the Wellcome Trust and by many others. The original “Hopkins Building” on the Downing Site has also been almost fully refurbished, with the final improvements scheduled for completion in early 2010.

The Department plays an increasing role in national activities. Members of the Department participate in committees of research councils, Cancer Research Campaign and Wellcome Trust. We have provided Presidents of the Biochemical Society and the Biosciences Federation, the Chair of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Chair of the BBSRC. We engage in many research collaborations with multinational companies like GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Shell as well as smaller companies like Tripos Associates. Basic science discoveries find their way, often quite quickly, into many aspects of medical, agricultural and environmental research. Members of the Department have co-founded new companies including Biotica and Astex Technology.

Whatever our achievements in basic science and in making it useful, we will likely be judged nationally on other criteria. When asked what his most important discovery was, Sir Humphrey Davy said “Michael Faraday”. Our most important contribution will surely be the young graduates and post-graduates who go on to play roles in many aspects of scientific research, industry, government and teaching.


University of Cambridge
Systems Biology Centre
Tennis Court Road 80
CB2 1GA Cambridge
United Kingdom
Field of Activity:
Research & Development
Research & Education
Number of employess:
more than 500