Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology

The undergraduate degree in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology emphasizes knowledge and awareness of:

  • the biological sciences in general and detailed understanding of currently important aspects of cellular biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, and developmental biology; and
  • the relationship of the specialty area to broader areas of science and to society in general, including ethical issues raised by current biological research and by the rapid growth of biotechnology as an important shaping force for the future.  

In addition, students completing the ­degree in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology are expected to acquire the ability and skills to:

  • learn detailed laboratory ­procedures rapidly when the need arises;
  • demonstrate a scientific vocabulary and an understanding of research methods that permits the comprehension of articles from current journals, extraction of pertinent information, and judgment of the quality of the work described;
  • evaluate a biological problem, determine which aspects are understood, and apply basic research methods and techniques to the unknown aspects; and
  • communicate scientific concepts and analytical arguments clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing.

Course code for this program is MCDB.  

Bachelor's Degree Program(s)

Bachelor’s Degree in MCDB

Students must complete the general requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences and the required courses listed below. 

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours

  • MCDB 1150 Introduction to Molecular Biology and 1151 Introduction to Molecular Biology Laboratory or MCDB 1111 Biofundamentals: The Evolutionary, Molecular, and Cellular Basis of Life (Note 1)—4
  • MCDB 2150 Principles of Genetics and MCDB 2151 Principles of Genetics Laboratory—4
  • MCDB 3135 Molecular Cell Biology I—3
  • MCDB 3140 Cell Biology Laboratory—2
  • MCDB 3145 Molecular Cell Biology II—3
  • MCDB 4650 Developmental Biology or MCDB 4300 Immunology or MCDB 4777 Molecular Neurobiology (spring 2010)—3
  • Upper-division electives in MCDB. Two courses must be lecture courses. One of these must be a 4000-level, scientific reasoning MCDB course (see department for approved courses.)—11-12
  • CHEM 1113/1114; CHEM 1133/1134; CHEM 1251/1271, or CHEM 1351/1371 General Chemistry 1 and 2 lecture and lab—10
  • CHEM 3311 Organic Chemistry 1 and CHEM 3321 Laboratory in Organic Chemistry 1 or CHEM 3351 Organic Chemistry 1 and CHEM 3361 Laboratory in Organic Chemistry 1 for Chemistry Majors—5-6
  • CHEM 4611 Survey of Biochemistry or CHEM 4711 General Biochemistry 1—3
  • PHYS 1110 and 1120 General Physics 1 and 2 and PHYS 1140 Experimental Physics or PHYS 2010 and 2020 General Physics 1 and 2, or PHYS 1110 and PHYS 2020 9-10
  • MATH 1300 Analytic Geometry and Calculus 1 (Note 2) or statistics ( MATH 2510, PSYC 3101, or IPHY 2800—3-5
  • It is strongly recommended that MCDB majors consult with a departmental advisor before applying AP, IB, or CLEP credit. Students majoring in MCDB who transfer biology credit from other institutions also must consult a departmental advisor.

Curriculum Notes

1. EBIO 1210 and 1230 are acceptable alternatives.

2. APPM 1350 or MATH 1310 are acceptable alternatives.

MCDB Prerequisites Statement

It is MCDB policy to enforce the course prerequisites listed in the course catalog. If you have not either taken and passed (C- or better) the prerequisites for a course, or obtained permission from the instructor or a departmental advisor to take the course based on equivalent preparatory course work or experience here or elsewhere, you may be administratively dropped from the course.

Graduating in Four Years

Consult the Four-Year Guarantee Requirements for information on eligibility. The concept of “adequate progress” as it is used here only refers to maintaining eligibility for the four-year guarantee; it is not a requirement for the major. To maintain adequate progress in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, students should meet the following requirements:

  • The MCDB major must be started in the first semester for a student to be eligible for guaranteed four-year graduation. Students must complete the general requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences and the required courses listed below. Adequate progress is defined as cumulative completion of at least one-fourth of the required course work for the major during each academic year, including the following specific requirements:
  • Either general chemistry or the introductory MCDB sequence must be completed during the first year. 
  • General chemistry and the introductory MCDB sequence must both be completed by the end of the second year.
  • Organic chemistry and the second-level sequence in MCDB (Molecular Cell Biology I and II) must be completed by the end of the third year.

Animal Use Policy

Biology is the science of life, and a major in it must include some hands-on experience with living organisms to be complete. Exercises involving the use of living animals or animal tissues are included, therefore, in MCDB laboratory courses. Majors with objections on moral grounds may arrange to limit their participation in these exercises, although their educational experience is compromised by doing so. 

Nonmajors may take MCD biology lecture courses without the accompanying laboratories. Laboratory courses in which living vertebrate animals or tissues are used are identified in the course description section of this catalog. For additional information, please contact the department.

Graduate Degree Program(s)

Graduate Study in MCDB

Opportunities for graduate study and original research, leading to the PhD degree, are available in a variety of areas.

Molecular Biology. Includes gene regulation, virology, nucleic acid-protein interactions, chromosome structure and function, chromosome replication, microbial diversity, human genome structure, RNA structure, and catalysis.

Cell Biology. Includes cytoskeleton, biophysical cytology, vacuole assembly, analysis of yeast spindle pole bodies and vertebrate centrosomes, synthesis and secretion of glycoproteins and polysaccharides, defense responses in plants, and 3-D high resolution reconstruction, biogenesis of mitochondria and chloroplasts, energy metabolism, assembly of membrane protein complexes, cell cycle regulation and checkpoints, and signal transduction.

Developmental Biology. Covers mechanisms and regulation of morphogenesis and cell growth, genetic control of development, molecular genetics of embryogenesis, sex determination, ras proteins and vulval development, and programmed cell death in nematodes, molecular genetics of Drosophila neurobiology, developmental genetics of Drosophila and Caenorhabditis, neural development in mice, transgenic mice, and muscle development and function.

Genetics. Includes genetics of human disease, complex traits, mouse development, and invertebrate development.

Entrance Requirements and Prerequisites. The graduate program of the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology is sufficiently flexible to accommodate students with a wide range of training. Students with bachelor’s degrees in any of the biological, biochemical, or physical sciences are encouraged to apply. Background necessary for the program includes the equivalent of undergraduate courses in cell biology, developmental biology, genetics, organic chemistry, biochemistry, chemical thermodynamics, differential and integral calculus, and general physics. Students accepted with deficiencies may demonstrate mastery of the required areas by taking appropriate undergraduate courses, by passing advanced-standing examinations, or by successfully completing graduate-level courses that require the undergraduate courses as prerequisites. Students admitted generally have independent research experience.

Areas of Study. All students are expected to develop competence in five areas: biochemistry, genetics, cell structure and function, developmental systems and mechanisms, and current research techniques of experimental biology. Students also are expected to develop their abilities as independent investigators who identify important questions in biology and design experiments to address those questions.

Master’s Program

In view of the strong research orientation of the fields involved, the department does not accept applications from students seeking the MA as a terminal degree. The master’s of arts degree, either with a thesis (Plan I) or without (Plan II), is awarded under special circumstances. Candidates must pass the preliminary examination and a comprehensive final examination. For Plan I a thesis based on original research must be submitted. Final determination of whether a student follows Plan I or Plan II is made by the department.

Doctoral Degree 

Course of Study. The faculty of the department offers a variety of courses to help graduate students acquire knowledge in the various areas of study. Further, students are required to work in at least three different laboratories to broaden their education and to help them identify the field of greatest interest for their thesis work.

Examination Sequence. An advisory committee, appointed upon entrance, develops an appropriate curriculum based in part on the student’s background. A written preliminary exam consists of a series of courses and exams administered during the first year. A comprehensive qualifying exam administered at the beginning of the spring semester of the second year includes a written research proposal and an oral defense of the proposal that emphasizes breadth and depth of knowledge as well as an ability to communicate and synthesize facts into a coherent scientific argument. 

Language. The department does not have a language requirement.

Thesis. The principal elements in graduate training are defining a thesis problem, investigating this problem with a coherent piece of research that constitutes a substantial contribution to knowledge, and writing a report on this work in the form of peer-reviewed journal articles and a thesis submitted to a departmental committee for approval. After completion of the thesis, each candidate for the PhD degree is required to take a final oral examination on the thesis and related topics, and to present a public seminar.

Teaching. Generally, each candidate for the PhD degree does two semesters of apprentice teaching. This obligation is usually met during the student’s first year of graduate study.

Course Requirements. A minimum of 30 credit hours of courses numbered 5000 and above, plus 30 hours of doctoral thesis, are required. Specific courses depend on the student background and field of specialization.