Woman looking at test tube
Degrees Offered: BA IBA (MA) PhD

Molecular, cellular and developmental biology emphasizes the biological sciences in general as well as a detailed understanding of currently important aspects of cellular biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics and developmental biology. It also examines 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 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 permit the comprehension of articles from current journals; 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.

Opportunities open to MCDB majors with the BA degree include laboratory work in research, clinical and diagnostic laboratories, as well as both research and manufacturing positions in biotechnology. Other possibilities include sales and service representatives for pharmaceutical, medical or laboratory products, positions in governmental agencies, technical editing and publishing, scientific illustration and a variety of management training programs.

Undergraduate Opportunities

CU ­Boulder offers three undergraduate majors in the biological sciences: integrative physiology (IPHY); ecology and evolutionary biology (EBIO); and molecular, cellular and developmental biology (MCDB). All three majors lead to the Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree.

The undergraduate program in MCDB is directed toward understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms that provide the basis for biological structure, growth, evolution, embryonic development and genetic inheritance. Undergraduate majors learn about the scientific method, experimental approaches and groundbreaking discoveries that have made modern molecular and cellular biology such an important force in medicine, agriculture and the growing biotechnology industry. They also learn about the diverse tools of modern biology, including recombinant DNA, genomic mapping, transgenic organisms, gene targeting, analysis of mutants, biochemical purification, antibody probes, laser manipulation of living cells, light and electron microscopy and computer modeling.

Graduate Studies

The graduate program in MCDB is designed to provide students with diverse opportunities for acquiring a strong foundation in modern biology and applying it toward the generation of new knowledge through research.

The Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology currently has 28 full-time tenured/tenure­track faculty members and an outstanding, energetic research program directed toward understanding the molecular basis of life by integrating molecular biology, biochemistry, cell biology and genetics. The research in MCDB is currently supported by annual funding of almost $17 million.

Students accepted into the graduate program are provided with financial support (full tuition, fees and monthly stipend) during the tenure of their study, provided they are making appropriate progress toward the PhD degree. Support funds are available from National Research Service Awards from the National Institutes of Health, University of Colorado Fellowships, State of Colorado Education Programs, the Colorado Institute for Research in Biotechnology and research assistantships.

Research Opportunities

In addition to academic and laboratory classes, MCDB majors have many opportunities to participate in ongoing research in the department.

The department is housed in two adjoining buildings containing more than 120,000 square feet of laboratory space designed specifically for its research programs. The second building, completed in 1995, doubled the department’s laboratory space and has allowed for faculty expansion into new areas, including mammalian development and problems relating to human health. Current research includes bacterial and eukaryotic molecular genetics, mechanisms controlling cellular growth, survival and differentiation, animal and plant development, neurobiology, genomic analysis and molecular phylogeny. 

Specialized instruments and facilities in MCDB include a DNA sequencing service, advanced computer facilities, a pathogen­free transgenic mouse laboratory, freeze­etch equipment and advanced light and electron microscope facilities, including fluorescence deconvolution and confocal scanning light microscopes and two advanced intermediate volt electron microscopes for three­dimensional imaging. In addition, each faculty research laboratory is fully equipped for the specialized needs of the research being done there.

Dozens of undergraduates do research projects in the MCDB faculty laboratories each year. Students seeking to do research are advised to complete the required sequence of MCDB courses as early as possible in order to be better prepared academically for research, to meet more faculty and to have enough time left later for full involvement in a research project. Undergraduate research experience greatly improves the likelihood of admission to a high quality PhD program as the next step toward a career in research.