MOLECULAR BIOLOGY AND BIOCHEMISTRY
2019-2020

MOLECULAR BIOLOGY AND BIOCHEMISTRY FACULTY

Undergraduate Program

DEPARTMENTAL ADVISING EXPERTS:

Department/Program Home Page

 

Department/Program Description

Molecular Biology and Biochemistry (MB&B) focuses on the molecular basis of life — on mechanisms by which cells process, integrate, and act on information to create and propagate living organisms. In keeping with the culture of liberal education at Wesleyan University, the MB&B major is designed to accommodate a broad range of academic interests and allow students to concentrate in particular disciplines such as molecular biology, biochemistry, biophysics, structural biology, cell biology, genetics, epigenetics, genomics, and computational modeling. The interdisciplinary nature and flexibility of the MB&B major also enables students to couple their affinity for biological sciences with other majors, including chemistry, mathematics and computer science, science in society, psychology, government, economics, etc. MB&B provides foundational training for a range of professional careers in medicine, public health, pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry, public policy, science journalism, and teaching, among others. We welcome students of all interests and backgrounds to join us.

Courses for Non-Majors

Non-life-science majors are encouraged to consider MB&B103MB&B107MB&B119MB&B181, or MB&B182 as part of their program to meet NSM requirements. See WesMaps for current course offerings.

MB&B228 is an introductory biochemistry course for nonmajors intending to pursue a medical degree.

Student Learning Goals
  • Acquire mastery of core foundational knowledge of molecular biology and biochemistry
  • Acquire selective familiarity with our primary literature and bioinformatic databases
  • Achieve familiarity with major questions at the forefront of our field
  • Acquire mastery of analytical, quantitative, and creative approaches to analyze problems in our field and to synthesize them in order to create logical hypotheses and experimental plans
  • Acquire ability to use multidisciplinary approaches to synthesize a cogent experimental plan
  • Acquire mastery of important methodologies in our field
  • Acquire mastery of a subset of hands-on methodologies in our field
  • Acquire proficiency in oral, written, and visual modes of effective scientific communication
Admission to the Major

Students are encouraged to begin coursework 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&B181/BIOL181 and MB&B182/BIOL182; associated laboratory MB&B191/BIOL191 and MB&B192/BIOL192) and/or the core general chemistry series (CHEM141/CHEM143 and CHEM142/CHEM144; 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.

Major Requirements

The molecular biology and biochemistry major requires the following coursework:

Introductory Courses
MB&B181
MB&B191
Principles of Biology I: Cell Biology and Molecular Basis of Heredity
and Principles of Biology I--Laboratory
1.5
MB&B182
MB&B192
Principles of Biology II
and Principles of Biology II--Laboratory
1.5
General Chemistry
CHEM141/143 Introductory Chemistry I 1
CHEM142/144 Introductory Chemistry II 1
CHEM152 Introductory Chemistry Laboratory 0.5
Gateway Molecular Biology
MB&B208 Molecular Biology 1
Organic Chemistry
CHEM251 Principles of Organic Chemistry I 1
CHEM252 Principles of Organic Chemistry II 1
Mathematics
Select one Mathematics course (calculus or statistics recommended) 1
Physical Chemistry
MB&B381 Physical Chemistry for the Life Sciences 1
Biochemistry
MB&B383 Biochemistry 1
Advanced Laboratory
MB&B394 Advanced Laboratory in Molecular Biology and Genetics 1
or MB&B395 Structural Biology Laboratory
Electives
Select two elective courses, at least one of which must be a 300-level MB&B course 2

Students are encouraged to take our seminar course, MB&B209, in the spring of their first or second year.

Chemistry's introductory lab may be taken in fall or spring; spring is suggested unless it conflicts with athletic team responsibilities or other time-consuming commitments.

One semester of college mathematics is required (AP credit is not accepted). Students with deep theoretical knowledge in areas of mathematics, as evident by advanced coursework (e.g., in physics) or quantitative forms of research, may petition for the use of a less theoretical mathematics course (e.g., QAC courses) to satisfy the MB&B math major requirement.

One advanced laboratory class is required. Majors interested in a concentration in molecular biology should take MB&B394, 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. Currently, the Chemistry Integrated Laboratory courses (CHEM375 and CHEM376) do not satisfy this requirement. Students taking both of the advanced lab courses (MB&B394 and MB&B395) may count one of the two courses as their 300-level elective. 

MB&B381 may be replaced by two semesters of Introductory Physics (PHYS111 and PHYS112, or PHYS113 and PHYS116) or by Physical Chemistry (CHEM337 and CHEM338). In this case MB&B381 may then count as one of the required 300-level electives.

One of the two required electives must be a 300-level MB&B course. This may be fulfilled by taking a 1.0-credit 300-level course, or by taking two 0.5-credit 300-level courses. 

The second elective may be a 200-level or 300-level MB&B course. Two consecutive semesters of research (in the same laboratory) for credit (MB&B423 and MB&B424, Advanced Research Seminar) 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, provided that it is taken for 1.0 credit each semester and a grade of B or higher is achieved. Honors Thesis (MB&B409 and MB&B410) may not be used to satisfy an elective requirement. 

For potential elective courses outside of MB&B, including study-abroad courses, students must consult with their faculty advisor and the MB&B chair in a timely manner. Approved courses outside MB&B that can be taken to satisfy the lower-level elective requirement include BIOL218 Developmental Biology, BIOL334 Shaping the Organism, and CHEM396 Molecular Modeling and Design. 

Pre-meds and pre-grads: Organic chemistry laboratory courses (CHEM257 and CHEM258) are requirements for virtually all graduate and medical schools. Most medical schools also require one year of physics with related labs and two semesters of mathematics. Many MB&B majors take 200- and 300-level courses over the curriculum requirement to better prepare for graduate or medical school.

MB&B majors are also encouraged to attend the MB&B and biology seminars (Wednesdays 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.

Capstone Experience

Independent laboratory research is strongly encouraged as it provides students with an exceptionally valuable learning experience. As research students, MB&B majors interact with faculty and graduate students in an environment that fosters strong intellectual and social connections. Moreover, many graduate and professional schools specifically recruit candidates with research experience. MB&B majors not interested in laboratory research can get a measure of this experience through participation in departmental and inter-departmental seminar series and journal clubs.

Faculty research interests cover an exciting range of current topics in molecular and cellular biology and biochemistry. Research areas include DNA replication and repair mechanisms, membrane transport processes, DNA-protein interactions, gene regulation, genome organization and structure, and membrane protein structure-function and dynamics. Students are encouraged to learn more about ongoing research in the MB&B department.

We also recommend the course MB&B209, which is taught every spring. This course provides students opportunities to discuss research with current MB&B majors and graduate students.

All MB&B majors participate in independent research projects as part of our experimental-based advanced laboratory courses MB&B394 and MB&B395, at least one of which is required. Students interested in additional research can pursue the following options:

Honors

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 or preapproved faculty member in another department conducting research in the fields of molecular biology, biochemistry, or biophysics.

Two readers (in addition to the research mentor) must be selected for review of honors theses in MB&B. It is expected that these readers will be MB&B research faculty; any exception requires approval of the MB&B department chair.

Additional information about the Honors process can be found here.

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.

AP credit is not accepted for the math requirement. 

Prizes

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.

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.

William Firshein Prize: In honor of founding faculty member William Firshein, awarded to the graduating MB&B student who has contributed the most to the interests and character of the molecular biology and biochemistry department.

American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biochemistry Honor Society: The ASBMB Honor Society recognizes exceptional undergraduate juniors and seniors pursuing a degree in the molecular life sciences. Students are recognized for their scholarly achievement, research accomplishments, and outreach activities in the molecular life sciences.

American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biochemistry Research Award: The ASBMB rewards exceptional rising seniors pursuing a degree in the molecular life sciences who have developed an exciting research project. More information is available on the ASBMB web page

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&B395MB&B383MB&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 informatics and modeling. The Integrative Genomic Sciences (IGS) pathway is an integrative program of coursework 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. The IGS course requirements are listed here. Students interested in the IGS certificate should contact Professor R. Lane.

BA/MA Program
This program provides an attractive option for life science majors to enrich their course and research background. Students are advised to begin research by their junior year if they intend to pursue the BA/MA. Admission is competitive and based on GPA, faculty recommendations, and research experience. For more information, please visit the BA/MA Program page.
Additional Information

UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES

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 alongside PhD and MA students at the cutting edge of discovery in molecular biology and biochemistry. To complement laboratory experiences, MB&B majors are also encouraged to gain exposure to current research through journal clubs and seminars. Undergraduate research encompassing multiple semesters or summers may be used towards completion of a senior honors thesis, as well as the basis for pursuing a Master of Arts in MB&B through the BA/MA program.

For initial entry into the world of research, most students sign up for a semester of research for 0.5 or 1.0 credit (MB&B423or MB&B424). This option allows students to test the waters with respect to research topics, environment, faculty, and graduate students in the department, without an overly long or binding commitment. Students are expected to dedicate at least 10 hours per week on their research project, which includes attendance in weekly group meetings and reading and discussion of current literature with group members, in addition to planning and performing experiments. In order to register for this Individual Tutorial students must choose a faculty research mentor and submit an electronic tutorial form using the drop/add system in their Portal. This course may be taken more than once.

MB&B majors not interested in laboratory work are encouraged to gain exposure to current research through journal clubs and seminars. 

Graduate Program

General Introduction

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

The Molecular Biology and Biochemistry (MB&B) Department supports a graduate program with emphasis in molecular genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, and molecular biophysics. The MB&B graduate program is designed to lead to the degree of doctor of philosophy. The graduate program is an integral part of the departmental course offerings. Graduate students serve as teaching assistants in undergraduate courses, generally during their first two years. The emphasis of the program is on an intensive research experience culminating in a dissertation. The program of study also includes a series of courses covering the major areas of molecular biology, biochemistry, and biophysics; journal clubs in which current research is discussed in an informal setting; practica designed to introduce first-year students to the research interests of the faculty; and several seminar series in which either graduate students or distinguished outside speakers participate. The low student-faculty ratio (2.5:1) allows programs to be individually designed and ensures close contact between the student and the faculty.

MASTER OF ARTS

The MB&B Department offers graduate work leading to the degree of Master of Arts through the BA/MA program.  The program has a strong research orientation, but also includes course work, seminars, and, in some cases, teaching.  Students interested in the BA/MA program should declare their intention to do so no later than early in their senior year to permit the design of an acceptable program with a research advisor.  The MB&B Department may also grant the degree of Master of Arts to students in the PhD program who do not complete the PhD.

Courses

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

Ideally, incoming students will have completed courses in general biology, cell and molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, and calculus. Deficiencies in any of these areas would normally be made up in the first year on a case by case basis. A core curriculum of graduate courses in the following areas is given on a ~two-year cycle:

  • nucleic acid structure,
  • biosynthesis and its regulation,
  • regulation of gene expression,
  • regulation of chromosome dynamics,
  • structural mechanisms and energetics of protein-nucleic-acid interactions,
  • protein structure and folding,
  • protein trafficking in cells,
  • physical techniques,
  • molecular genetics,
  • the cell cycle,
  • biological spectroscopy,
  • bioinformatics and functional genomics, and
  • molecular, biochemical, and cellular bases of cancer and other human diseases.

Additional graduate course electives are also available in some years. Within this general framework, an individual program of study tailored to fit the student’s background and interests is designed in consultation with the graduate committee and the student’s advisor. Graduate students must take at least 3.0 credits of ‘lecture-style’ courses in order to be eligible to take the Stage I Qualifying examination, which is generally taken in January of the second year of study.

MASTER OF ARTS

Masters students are required to complete six credits. A typical schedule for five of the six credits can be found in the chart below.  With permission from the department, students who received credit in 300-level MB&B electives that were not used to fulfill major requirements for their BA degree (in MB&B or another major) may apply them towards the MA degree requirements. BA/MA students are expected to give an oral presentation on their research as part of our graduate seminar series. 

Plan of Study Grid
First Year
Fall Hours
MB&B 500-Level Elective 1.0
MB&B549 Advanced Research Seminar, Graduate 1.0
MB&B585
Seminar in Molecular Biology
or Molecular Biophysics Journal Club I
0.25
MB&B557 Research Seminars in Molecular Biology 0.25
  Hours 2.5
Spring
MB&B 500-Level Elective 1.0
MB&B550 Advanced Research Seminar, Graduate 1.0
MB&B586
Seminar in Molecular Biology
or Molecular Biophysics Journal Club II
0.25
MB&B558 Research Seminars in Molecular Biology 0.25
  Hours 2.5
  Total Hours 5
Progress and Qualifying Exams

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

The criteria for admission to candidacy for the PhD will be performance in courses, aptitude for research, and two qualifying examinations taken in the second year. The Stage I Qualifying Examination is a written examination taken in January, and the Stage II Qualifying Examination is an oral defense of an original research proposal presented by the middle of the fourth semester.

MASTER OF ARTS

Progress and Qualifying Examinations are not required for the MA degree. 

Teaching

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

PhD candidates in the MB&B department are expected to participate as teaching assistants (TAs) in undergraduate courses for at least their first 3 semesters. If available, some students may then receive research assistant stipends (RAs) from extramural grants for the remainder of their PhD studies; otherwise, students may continue to receive TA stipends with associated teaching responsibility for the remainder of their PhD studies.

MASTER OF ARTS

There are no requirements to TA for the BA/MA program.

Research

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

PhD students will normally complete two lab rotations during their initial two semesters, with the goal of being exposed to a broad range of research techniques and topics in molecular biology. Students generally select one of these rotation labs to pursue their PhD thesis work by the end of the first year, and will begin working on their thesis project during the first summer. The overarching goals of the research experience are to: (i) develop expertise in research methodologies; (ii) develop expertise at the cutting edge of a scientific field, including mastery of relevant literature; (iii) to contribute to the advancement of the field, typically culminating in two published papers in international peer-reviewed scientific journals; (iv) to become effective presenters of scientific data, in the context of their own published manuscripts, seminar presentations, written reports and thesis documents, evaluating published data in journal clubs and coursework, and by presenting at a professional scientific meeting. The MB&B department offers research opportunities across a broad range of topics, including but not limited to:

  • control of DNA replication
  • mechanism of protein secretion
  • global regulations of ribosomal biogenesis in the yeast S. cerevisiae
  • mechanisms of DNA replication and repair
  • protein-protein and protein-nucleic-acid interactions
  • the structural dynamics of nucleic acids and proteins
  • chromosome structure and gene expression
  • UV resonance Raman spectroscopy of biological macromolecules
  • biological assembly mechanisms
  • protein fiber formation in disease
  • enzyme mechanisms
  • the olfactory system and new frontiers in genome research
  • elucidation of membrane protein function by x-ray crystallography

MASTER OF ARTS

MA students will continue research they began as undergraduate students. This includes at least one summer of full-time research. MA students will pursue a thesis topic that addresses important scientific questions in the field.  MA students will develop expertise in cutting edge methodologies in molecular biology and biochemistry, extensively read the literature relevant to their thesis project, and present their results at a departmental seminar. MA students often contribute their data towards publication of a co-authored, peer-reviewed journal article, but this is not a formal requirement for the degree. 

Thesis/Dissertation/Defense

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

The most important requirement is a PhD thesis, an original contribution to the field that merits publication. The candidate will receive advice and guidance from their advising committee but must demonstrate both originality and scientific competence. Normally, the candidate will choose a thesis topic during the second year of graduate work in consultation with faculty mentors. Students will select a thesis committee consisting of three additional faculty members, chosen by the student and thesis advisor, with at least two of these members being from the MB&B department. Thesis committee meetings must be scheduled at least once per year in order to provide committee members with updates on progress towards the degree. This committee determines when sufficient experimental work has been completed to begin writing the thesis towards a defense of the body of work. This committee serves as the final examination committee that must approve the final written document and its defense.

MASTER OF ARTS

MB&B’s BA/MA and terminal MA students are expected to submit and orally defend a formal thesis document that describes the research they have carried out in partial fulfillment of the Master’s degree requirements. BA/MA students will select a thesis committee in the first semester of the MA year.  The thesis committee will consist of their research advisor and two additional faculty members where at least one is from the MB&B department. Upon completing the research goals for the thesis, and in consultation with their thesis committee, students will complete their MA thesis document and schedule an oral defense. The thesis committee serves as the final examination committee that must approve the final written document and its defense.

Concentrations

PhD students can pursue interdisciplinary specializations within the context of their PhD studies.  Molecular Biology and Biochemistry offers two interdisciplinary paths in the areas of Molecular Biophysics and Informatics and Modeling. Specialization in these areas is achieved through course work, seminars, journal clubs, and dissertation work performed under the guidance of program faculty. There are no formal tracks for the MA degree, although working within the lab of a participating faculty member will provide some of the same learning opportunities as described for the Molecular Biophysics and Informatics and Modeling programs.

For additional information, please visit the department website.