There is one question that students invariably ask me when I tell them about the chemical biology graduate program at Mac. “What is chemical biology?” Ask any of the 35 faculty members participating in the program and you’re likely to get 35 different answers.

In its broadest terms, chemical biology involves the use of small molecules to affect living systems. That definition begs quite a few questions. Where do you get these molecules? What are the targets of these agents? How do you know that you are having an effect on the biological system being probed? Which specific targets are giving rise to the responses observed? The answers to these questions necessitate a multi-disciplinary approach that incorporates everything from synthetic and analytical chemistry to structural and molecular biology. Our main goal is to provide students with training that is at the interface of chemistry, biochemistry and biology, with a primary emphasis on understanding how the chemical biology approach can be used to solve complex biological problems such as the mechanisms of disease, the regulation of biological pathways and the roles of different biomolecules in controlling cellular function (or dysfunction). Have a look at the research interests of the participating faculty and you’ll get a sense of the range of projects on offer.

The chemical biology graduate program is different from many others. While students will work with a faculty member with a particular expertise in a particular “home” department, research projects extend beyond traditional departmental borders. The multidisciplinary nature of the program is such that collaboration and interactions with colleagues outside a researcher’s main discipline area broadens and enriches the training experience of the students in the program. Students graduate as highly qualified researchers possessing a diverse skill set and capable of operating within multidisciplinary teams speaking both the “languages” of chemistry and biology.

I encourage you to spend some time wandering around the chemical biology website. There are a couple of newer additions to the site that you should visit. The video page, for example, presents current students discussing their research and the chemical biology program. In addition, the chemical biology graduate program is the academic home for many of the students participating in NSERC CREATE training programs in molecular imaging probes or biointerfaces. These CREATE programs are centered around Focus Groups, a interdisciplinary mix of researchers each bringing their unique skill set to tackle a broad research problem.

Have a look around the website and feel free to drop us a line if you have any questions.