The University of Virginia's (UVA) upper level Biochemistry Laboratory course has been designed to ensure that all students graduating from the Chemistry department with a Biochemistry specialization (between 75 – 90 students per year) have had research experience. The lab course, which meets for an entire year, assigns students to study a protein which has a known structure, but the enzymatic function has not been experimentally determined. Depending on which protein they are studying, their goal is either to form a hypothesis about the function, which they are able to narrow down through the use of bioinformatics and their knowledge of the structure-function relationship, or, in the case of proteins with confirmed function, to design a mutation which will alter the specificity of the enzyme without eliminating activity.
To prepare students for this work, teaching during the first semester is focused on biochemical techniques and theory. The second semester asks students to apply what was learned in the first semester to study their protein. Students can take their project as far as time and their interests allow.
In addition to learning hands-on biochemistry students learn to work collaboratively working in groups, write scientifically, read primary literature, and communicate their work both orally during group meetings and at poster presentations and in writing in the final course paper, a publication style manuscript.