Department of Molecular and Cell Biology


Professors: Hans Bremer (emeritus), Lee A. Bulla, Rockford K. Draper, Steven R. Goodman, Donald M. Gray, Franklyn G. Jenifer, Lawrence J. Reitzer
Associate Professors: Gail A.M. Breen, John G. Burr, Jeff L. DeJong, Santosh R. D’Mello, Juan E. González, Ernest M. Hannig, Stephen D. Levene, Robert C. Marsh, Dennis L. Miller, Betty S. Pace
Assistant Professors: Matthew Junker
Senior Lecturers: Vincent P. Cirillo, John Moltz, Scott A. Rippel, Illya Sapoznikov, Joseph Wood
Faculty Affiliates: Sherry S. Herron


The Graduate Program offers training in those aspects of molecular and cell biology that are the bases of modern biological and biomedical sciences.

The Master of Science degree is designed for students who wish to learn the methodology of research in molecular and cell biology and the fundamentals of problem solving in these areas.

The Master of Science degree without thesis is intended for students who wish to acquire a working knowledge of biotechnology, for other students who seek to gain knowledge of modern biology without the intent to seek positions as technical laboratory personnel, and for those students who are seeking additional preparation for admission to professional schools.

The Master of Arts in Teaching degree in Science Education with a specialization in Biology is designed to strengthen the knowledge of high school teachers in fundamental aspects of biology and to bring them up to date on advances in this rapidly developing field. For further information on this program and for course descriptions, see the Science/Mathematics Education section of this catalog.

The Doctor of Philosophy degree with a major in Molecular and Cell Biology is appropriate for students who show a potential for originality in research and is designed to develop a critical and analytical understanding of current developments which will enable them to keep abreast of the rapid advances that are likely to occur in the biological and biomedical fields.

The M.S. and Ph.D. degree plans offer students the opportunity to prepare for academic careers in colleges and universities including medical and dental schools, and for careers in industrial, hospital, public health, environmental and governmental laboratories and organizations.


First-year students will normally complete a body of core courses that emphasize fundamental aspects of biochemistry, biophysics, molecular biology, and cell biology. Students may then proceed to advanced course work in any of these four general areas. All elective courses are open to all qualified students as recommended by their supervising committees. First year students are also encouraged to participate in rotations through research laboratories.

In the second year, research is initiated under the supervision of one or more of the Molecular and Cell Biology faculty. The faculty and their research interests are listed below. Prospective students should recognize that it is possible to do research in closely related areas not mentioned in this list, provided a faculty member is prepared to supervise the work.

Gail A.M. Breen, Isolation and characterization of the genes that code for proteins of the mammalian mitochondrion; mitochondrial biogenesis; eukaryotic gene regulation.
Lee A. Bulla, Molecular basis of biopesticides.
John G. Burr, Eukaryotic growth regulation; mechanism of viral oncogenic transformation.
Santosh D’Mello, Molecular control of neuronal apoptosis
Jeff L. DeJong, Eukaryotic transcription; initiation and activation of RNA polymerase II.
Rockford K. Draper, Membrane traffic; protein toxins; bio-nanotechnology
Juan E. González, Cell-cell interactions, role of exopolysaccharides in nodulation of legumes by rhizobia; molecular genetics of plant-microbe interactions.
Steven R. Goodman, The spectrin membrane skeleton’s role in blood and neurologic disorders; sickle cell disease.
Donald M. Gray, Study of nucleic acids and single-strand DNA binding proteins.
Ernest M. Hannig, Control of protein synthesis; genetic and biochemical analysis of translation initiation factors; protein-protein interactions.
Matthew Junker, Mechanisms of proteins in gene expression and cell growth.
Stephen D. Levene, Structure and dynamics of nucleic acids and nucleic acid-protein complexes in solution.
Robert C. Marsh, Response of cells to damage; protein cross-linking by transglutaminase; nuclear matrix.
Dennis L. Miller, Structure and organization of mitochondrial DNA; mitochondrial gene expression; RNA editing; mitochondrial biogenesis.
Betty S. Pace, Gene therapy, sickle cell disease.
Lawrence J. Reitzer, Regulation of gene expression and metabolism in prokaryotes.


Major items of equipment used by the faculty and available for graduate student research include a Philips 400 electron microscope with Gatan cryo-stage; Leica TCS SP2 AOBS confocal microscope system equipped with a DMIRE2 inverted microscope; Becton Dickson fluorescence activated cell sorter; ultracentrifuges; Applied Biosystems DNA Synthesizer; high-pressure liquid chromatography units; scintillation counters; gamma counters; spectrophotometers; photon-counting spectrofluorometer; Jasco J-715 spectropolarimeter; and Molecular Dynamics PhosphoImagers. Thermal cyclers for polymerase chain reaction experiments and microcomputers with access to sequence analysis programs and nucleic acid data banks are also available for student use. A ThermoFinnigan LC QDECA XP ion trap mass spectrometer is available in the department for MS/MS analyses of biological samples. In addition, Silicon Graphics workstations with MSI software for molecular modeling studies, and a GE 500 MHz FT multinuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer are located on campus and are available for student research.

There is a modern research animal housing facility and there are complete facilities for mammalian cell culture and virus propagation in the Molecular and Cell Biology Department. Other shared biology facilities include a darkroom with an automated x-ray film developer, environmental chambers, radioactive “hot-rooms,” computer application rooms, a staffed media kitchen with autoclaves and washing machines, and an electronics workshop. In addition to the Eugene McDermott Library, the program has its own library, located near the research area.

Admission Requirements

The University’s general admission requirements are discussed here.

For full participation in the Graduate Program in Molecular and Cell Biology, the student should have a good background in calculus, general physics, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and general biology, including genetics. Entering students not having this background should take some additional course work in their first year or in the summer immediately preceding entry. A minimum GRE score of 1000 (verbal plus quantitative) is advisable based on our experience with student success in the program.

Degree Requirements

The University’s general degree requirements are discussed here.

Upon satisfactory completion of the core courses (and, for Ph.D. candidates, a favorable evaluation following the Spring semester as described below), a Supervising Committee is appointed for each student, except non-thesis M.S. students, based upon mutual agreement between student and faculty. The Supervising Committee, with the Supervising Professor as chairperson, will help the student plan an elective course curriculum and will oversee the student’s research and thesis or dissertation.

Master of Science

All students seeking the Master of Science degree in Molecular and Cell Biology must satisfactorily complete a total of at least 42 graduate semester hours which must include the following core courses: BIOL 5410, BIOL 5420, BIOL 5430, BIOL 5440, BIOL 5V50, and BIOL 5V51.

M.S. students intending to submit a thesis must, in addition to the core courses specified above, satisfactorily complete a further 22 hours of Biology courses including BIOL 6193 and BIOL 8398. These usually reflect experimental research but may also be based on literature research as determined by mutual agreement of the student and Supervising Committee.

M.S. (non-thesis) students must, in addition to the core courses specified, satisfactorily complete BIOL 5352-5652, seven hours of Biology general electives, and one to five hours of special electives, or, with approval of the Graduate Adviser, other graduate courses.

Doctor of Philosophy

All Ph.D. students must satisfactorily complete a total of at least 90 credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree. Generally, all core courses are mandatory. In special cases the requirement for a core course can be substituted, but only with the permission of the instructor and the graduate adviser, and usually only after examination. Students must include a minimum of four general elective courses in Biology for a minimum of 9 credit hours. After core courses BIOL 5410, BIOL 5420, BIOL 5430, BIOL 5440, BIOL 5V50 and BIOL 5V51 (and BIOL 6V00-The Art of Scientific Presentation) have been completed, students are evaluated, following the Spring semester. The evaluation is based upon performance in the core classes, laboratory rotations, and performance as teaching assistants (if applicable). Students who pass this evaluation must then pass an oral qualifying examination within three semesters to determine the student’s aptitude for continuation of dissertation research. A dissertation defense will be conducted after the dissertation has been written. All students are required to submit a minimum of one manuscript for publication in an internationally recognized, peer-reviewed scientific journal. There is no foreign language requirement.