Molecular Biology and Biochemistry header

Description of the Major

Department/Program Description.

Molecular biology and biochemistry is the science of biological molecules. This field encompasses diverse educational and research disciplines ranging from molecular genetics to molecular biophysics, all focused on understanding biological mechanisms underlying health and disease.

Courses for Non-Majors.

Nonlife science majors are encouraged to consider MB&B105 Genetics: From Mendel to the Human Genome Project, MB&B111 Introduction to Environmental Toxicology, MB&B119 Biology and Chemistry in the Modern World: A Survey of Drugs and Disease, or MB&B181, MB&B182 Principles of Biology I and II; introductory biology courses as part of their program to meet NSM requirements. See WesMaps for current course offerings.

Admission to the Major.

Students are encouraged to begin course work toward the MB&B major in the first year so that they can take maximum advantage of upper-level MB&B courses, research, and study-abroad opportunities in later years. However, the major can certainly be completed successfully if initiated during sophomore year.

A prospective MB&B major can begin with the core introductory biology series (MB&B/BIOL181 and MB&B/BIOL182; associated laboratory MB&B/BIOL191 and MB&B/BIOL192) and/or the core general chemistry series (CHEM141/143 and CHEM142/144; associated laboratory, CHEM152). MB&B181 is offered in small sections rather than a single, large lecture class. These small sections allow for problem-based learning at a more individualized pace as students master the first semester of university-level biology. MB&B193 is an optional Fall course for students of MB&B181 who seek a challenging reading and discussion experience in addition to the lectures; MB&B194 is the corresponding optional Spring course for students of MB&B182.

Major Requirements.

The molecular biology and biochemistry major requires the following course work:

  • Two introductory biology courses, MB&B181 and MB&B182, and their labs, MB&B191 and MB&B192
  • Two general chemistry courses, CHEM141/143 and CHEM142/144, and the lab, CHEM152
  • A gateway molecular biology course, MB&B208
  • Two organic chemistry courses, CHEM251 and CHEM252
  • One advanced laboratory course, MB&B394 or MB&B395
  • One mathematics course (calculus or statistics recommended)
  • One physical chemistry course, MB&B381
  • One biochemistry course, MB&B383
  • Two elective courses, at least one of which must be a 300-level MB&B course

Students are encouraged to take a seminar course, MB&B209 Research Frontiers in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry in the Spring of the first or sophomore year.

Two consecutive semesters of research for credit (in the same laboratory) (MB&B421, MB&B422 or MB&B401, MB&B402) with an MB&B faculty member (or a preapproved faculty member in another department conducting research in molecular biology/biochemistry/biophysics) can be substituted for the 200-level elective. Honors thesis (MB&B409 and MB&B410) does not count as an elective.

MB&B381 may be replaced by two semesters of introductory or general physics (PHYS111/113 and PHYS112/116) or physical chemistry (CHEM337 and CHEM 338). In this case MB&B381 may count as the required 300-level elective.

Approved courses outside of MB&B that can be taken as electives include BIOL218 and BIOL323 (students must choose MB&B395 for advanced laboratory if they take BIOL323 as an elective). For other potential elective courses, including study-abroad courses, students must consult with their faculty advisor and the MB&B chair in a timely manner.

Majors interested in a concentration in molecular biology should take the MB&B394 laboratory, which is offered every Spring semester and generally taken in the junior or senior year. Students interested in the molecular biophysics certificate should take MB&B395, which is offered every other year in Fall semester.

MB&B majors are also encouraged to attend the MB&B/BIOL seminars (Thursdays at noon), the chemistry colloquium (Fridays at 3.30 p.m.), and/or the biological chemistry seminars (Mondays at 4 p.m.), wherein distinguished scientists from other institutions are invited to present their research to our community. 

Note: Many MB&B majors take 200- and 300-level courses over the curriculum requirement to better prepare for graduate or medical school.


To be considered for departmental honors, a student must

  • Be an MB&B major and be recommended to the department by a faculty member. The student is expected to have a B average (grade-point average 85) in courses credited to the major.
  • Submit a thesis based on laboratory research or library research, performed under the supervision of an MB&B faculty member.
Advanced Placement.

Prospective MB&B majors who have achieved a score of 4 or 5 in AP Biology may consider replacing one of the introductory biology courses (MB&B181 or MB&B182) with an upper-level course. Students must consult with an MB&B faculty member if they wish to try to place out of an introductory course. Permission to place out of MB&B181 is based on a short interview with one of the MB&B faculty instructors and a short placement test.

Prospective MB&B majors who have achieved a score of 4 or 5 in AP Chemistry must meet the Chemistry Department requirements for advanced placement credit.

  • Hawk Prize: The gift of Philip B. Hawk, Class of 1898, as a memorial to his wife, Gladys, to the students who have done the most effective work in biochemistry.
  • William Firshein Prize: Awarded to the graduating MB&B student who has contributed the most to the interests and character of the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department.
  • Scott Biomedical Prize: Awarded to a member or members of the molecular biology and biochemistry senior class who have demonstrated excellence and interest in commencing a career in academic or applied medicine.
  • Dr. Neil Clendeninn Prize: Established in 1991 by George Thornton, Class of 1991, and David Derryck, Class of 1993, for the African American student who has achieved academic excellence in biology and/or molecular biology and biochemistry. This student must have completed his or her sophomore year and in that time have exemplified those qualities of character, leadership, and concern for the Wesleyan community as shown by Dr. Neil Clendeninn, Class of 1971.
Related Programs or Certificates.

Certificate program in molecular biophysics – An interdisciplinary program with faculty in the MB&B, Chemistry, Physics, and Biology departments. To receive a certificate in molecular biophysics, a student should major in either the Chemistry or MB&B Department. Interested students must take MB&B395, MB&B383, MB&B381 or CHEM337 and CHEM338, two upper-level elective courses in molecular biophysics, and two semesters of Molecular Biophysics Journal Club (MB&B307 and MB&B308). Students are strongly encouraged to conduct independent research in the laboratory of a molecular biophysics program faculty member. Students interested in the molecular biophysics certificate should contact Professor I. Mukerji. 

Certificate program in integrative genomic sciences (IGS) – An integrative program of course work and research in the areas of bioinformatics, genomics, computational biology, and bioethics, IGS involves faculty and students in the life sciences, physical sciences, information sciences, and philosophy. Please see the website for current information on courses. Students interested in the IGS certificate should contact Professor R. Lane.

Additional Information.

Undergraduate research is an important part of the program for many MB&B majors. Wesleyan's small but excellent graduate program makes it possible for majors to work at the cutting edge of discovery in molecular biology and biochemistry. MB&B majors not interested in laboratory work are encouraged to gain exposure to current research through journal clubs and seminars.