Department of Molecular Biology


  • Chair

    • Bonnie L. Bassler
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies

    • Elizabeth R. Gavis
  • Director of Graduate Studies

    • Ileana Cristea
  • Professor

    • Bonnie L. Bassler
    • Ileana M. Cristea
    • Lynn W. Enquist
    • Elizabeth R. Gavis
    • Zemer Gitai
    • Frederick M. Hughson
    • Yibin Kang
    • Michael S. Levine
    • Coleen T. Murphy
    • Paul D. Schedl
    • Jean E. Schwarzbauer
    • Thomas E. Shenk
    • Thomas J. Silhavy
    • Jeffry B. Stock
    • Shirley M. Tilghman
    • Eric F. Wieschaus
    • Ned S. Wingreen
    • Nieng Yan
  • Associate Professor

    • Rebecca D. Burdine
    • Danelle Devenport
    • Alexei V. Korennykh
    • Alexander Ploss
  • Assistant Professor

    • Mohamed S. Abou Donia
    • Brittany Adamson
    • Martin C. Jonikas
    • Ricardo Mallarino
    • Sabine Petry
    • Eszter Posfai
    • Jared E. Toettcher
    • Martin H. Wühr
  • Lecturer with Rank of Professor

    • Daniel A. Notterman
  • Senior Lecturer

    • Heather A. Thieringer
  • Lecturer

    • Karin R. McDonald
    • Laurel Lorenz
    • Jodi Schottenfeld-Roames

Program Information

At Princeton, courses in the biological sciences are offered in two departments. Students with interests in molecular, cellular, and developmental processes should enroll in the Department of Molecular Biology. Those with an evolutionary orientation and interest in organismal, population, and community processes should enroll in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Students considering a concentration in molecular biology are encouraged to attend a departmental sophomore open house that is held in the spring term to introduce them to the departmental requirements, courses, faculty, and research topics.

Information and Departmental Plan of Study


To enter the Department of Molecular Biology, students must have completed MOL 214 with a grade of C or better. CHM 201/207 and 202, or one unit of chemistry AP credit and CHM 202 or 215, or two units of chemistry AP credit, are also required to enter the department.

An alternate path into the department is through the integrated science curriculum (see below).

Program of Study

General requirements

The following courses are required:

Organic Chemistry

CHM 301 and 302/304, or CHM 337. Courses taken at other institutions can be used toward fulfillment of the chemistry requirements with prior approval from the Department of Chemistry. The organic chemistry requirement must be completed before the beginning of the junior year.


Students satisfy the quantitative requirement by taking one course in statistics (SML 201 or ORF 245) and one course in either computer science (COS 126 or above) or math (MAT 103, 104, 175, 192, or any 200-level MAT course). SML 201 and COS 126 are the recommended choices for most students. AP credit cannot be used toward the fulfillment of the quantitative requirement. Courses taken at other institutions can be substituted for the second required course (but not for the statistics course), if approved by the corresponding department.


Physics 108 (strongly recommended), or PHY 103 & 104, or PHY 101 & 102. PHY 108 is a one-semester, biologically oriented alternative to the traditional full-year sequences. Pre-medical students needing two semesters of physics can combine PHY 101 or 103 with PHY 108. Neither AP credit nor courses taken at other institutions can be used toward the fulfillment of the physics requirement.

Departmental core courses

The following core courses are required: MOL 342, MOL 345, MOL 348, and MOL 350. Except under very special circumstances, these courses must be taken before senior year. All four departmental core courses count toward the eight required departmentals. No substitutions are allowed except in the case of study abroad which, if it entails intensive research and with advanced permission, can substitute for MOL 350. Note that MOL 345 may be taken concurrently with CHM 302/304.

Other departmentals

All students must take a total of at least eight departmentals. In addition to the four departmental core courses, students must take at least one 300, 400, or 500-level course with MOL as the primary listing. The remaining three departmentals can be chosen from among all 300-or-higher-level MOL, MOL-crosslisted, or other approved courses (see list on department website). Note that CHM 301, CHM 302/304, and CHM 337 qualify as departmentals. Only courses taken at Princeton count as departmentals; there are no exceptions to this rule.

Any course that is a prerequisite, requirement, or departmental must be taken for a letter grade (no P/D/F). The sole exception is that, at the point of declaring the MOL concentration, students may appeal to 'uncover' a single P grade in order to meet a prerequisite or requirement for entry. See the Office of the Dean of the College's policy on appealing to rescind a P grade.

Independent Work

Junior Independent Work

In the fall semester of the junior year students participate in tutorials in which they read papers from the original literature and prepare two short papers on assigned topics. In the spring semester, students carry out independent work with a faculty adviser with whom they will eventually do their senior thesis research, culminating in a paper in the form of a grant proposal.

Senior Independent Work

During the senior year each student, with the guidance of a faculty adviser, undertakes a major research effort. This research project can be a laboratory or non-laboratory-based study that will be written and presented as a senior thesis.

Senior Departmental Examination

Students are required to present their work to two faculty thesis readers during an oral exam at which the adviser is not present. The exam usually takes about 30 minutes and students should be prepared to describe the background of the thesis, defend its contents, and propose future directions.

Study Abroad

Juniors who wish to study abroad must complete at least one departmental core course beforehand. Specifically, molecular biology concentrators who wish to study abroad must complete the following courses by the end of the sophomore year: MOL 214 (or ISC 231-234), CHM 302/304, and at least one of the four MOL core courses (MOL 342, MOL 345, MOL 348, MOL 350).

While abroad, students need to complete the equivalent of the fall semester junior paper. Programs that entail intensive laboratory research can, with advance permission, substitute for MOL 350. None of the other core courses (MOL 342, MOL 345, MOL 348) can be completed abroad, nor can any concentrator graduate wtih fewer than eight approved departmentals taken at Princeton.

The Office of International Programs has a detailed list of study abroad options listed on their website. Interested students should, at their earliest opportunity, discuss their plans with the departmental study abroad adviser, Fred Hughson.

Integrated Science Sequence

An alternative path into the department is through the integrated science curriculum. ISC 231-234 (a full-year, double-credit course) can be taken in the first year and substitutes for MOL 214, CHM 201 and 202, COS 126, and PHY 103 and 104. Students cannot receive credit for both an ISC course and its alternative. For full course descriptions and more information, see the integrated science website.

Approved Courses for Departmental Credit

See the departmental website for an up-to-date list of approved departmentals. Other courses may be approved upon consideration by the departmental undergraduate committee.

Program in Biophysics

The biophysics certificate program is designed for students with strong interests in molecular biology and physics who wish to combine these two subjects in their junior and senior independent work. The program offers a combination of courses and interdisciplinary research that meet the requirements of the physics or molecular biology departments, and entry requirements of graduate schools in both physics and molecular biology. Courses are chosen with the help of advisers in the Departments of Physics and Molecular Biology. Students are admitted to the program once they have chosen their field of concentration and consulted with the program director, who will assign them an adviser.

Program in Global Health and Health Policy

The global health and health policy certificate program is an interdepartmental program in which undergraduates can study the determinants, consequences, and patterns of disease across societies; the role of medical technologies and interventions in health improvements; and the economic, political, and social factors that shape domestic and global public health. In addition to the core departmental courses, molecular biology concentrators should take GHP 350 and GHP 351 by the end of junior year. Most upper-level MOL courses fulfill the requirements for the global health and health policy certificate.

Program in Neuroscience

The neuroscience certificate program is designed for undergraduates with strong interests in neuroscience who wish to pursue an interdisciplinary study of the brain in their senior independent work. The program encourages the serious study of molecular, cellular, developmental, and systems neuroscience as it interfaces with cognitive and behavioral research. The program offers a combination of courses and interdisciplinary research that meets the requirements of the molecular biology and psychology departments. Students in the neuroscience certificate program will be prepared to meet the entry requirements of graduate schools in neuroscience, as well as molecular biology or psychology.

Program in Quantitative and Computational Biology

The quantitative and computational biology certificate program is designed for students with a strong interest in multidisciplinary and systems-level approaches to understanding molecular, cellular, and organismal behavior. The curriculum introduces the students to experimental and analytic techniques for acquisition of large-scale quantitative observations, and the interpretation of such data in the context of appropriate models. Strong emphasis is placed on using global genome-wide measurements to understand physiological and evolutionary processes. The required courses provide a strong background in modern methodologies in data analysis, interpretation, and modeling.


MOL 101 From DNA to Human Complexity (also
STC 101
) Spring STL

This lecture and laboratory course will acquaint non-biology majors with the theory and practice of modern molecular biology, focusing on topics of current interest to society. The course will cover basic molecular biology topics such as information storage and readout by DNA, RNA, and proteins. The course will address how recent scientific advances influence issues relevant to humanity including stem cells and CRISPR; the human microbiome and bacterial pathogens; and how the human genome can be used to understand the evolution of modern humans. Two 90-minute lectures, one three-hour laboratory. Instructed by: B. Bassler, E. Wieschaus, R. Mallarino

MOL 110 Neuroscience and Everyday Life (See NEU 101)

MOL 211 Life on Earth: Chaos and Clockwork in Nature (See EEB 211)

MOL 214 Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology (also
EEB 214
CBE 214
) Fall/Spring STL

Important concepts and elements of molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, and cell biology, are examined in an experimental context. This course fulfills the requirement for students majoring in the biological sciences and satisfies the biology requirement for entrance into medical school. Two 90-minute lectures, one three-hour laboratory. Instructed by: Staff

MOL 215 Quantitative Principles in Cell and Molecular Biology (also
EEB 215
CBE 215
) Not offered this year STL

Central concepts and experiments in cellular, molecular, and developmental biology with an emphasis on underlying physical and engineering principles. Topics include the genetic code; energetics and cellular organization; communication, feeding, and signaling between cells; feedback loops and cellular organization; problems and solutions in development; the organization of large cellular systems, such as the nervous and immune systems. Satisfies the biology requirement for entrance into medical school. Prerequisites: AP biology, physics, and calculus. Three lectures, one three-hour laboratory. Instructed by: A. Korennykh, J. Toettcher, P. Felton

MOL 231 An Integrated, Quantitative Introduction to the Natural Sciences I (See ISC 231)

MOL 232 An Integrated, Quantitative Introduction to the Natural Sciences I (See ISC 232)

MOL 233 An Integrated, Quantitative Introduction to the Natural Sciences II (See ISC 233)

MOL 234 An Integrated, Quantitative Introduction to the Natural Sciences II (See ISC 234)

MOL 327 Immune Systems: From Molecules to Populations (See EEB 327)

MOL 340 Molecular and Cellular Immunology Spring STN

A broad survey of the field of immunology and the mammalian immune system. The cellular and molecular basis of innate and acquired immunity will be discussed in detail. The course will provide frequent exemplars drawn from human biology in health and disease. Prerequisite: MOL214. Instructed by: A. Ploss

MOL 342 Genetics Spring STN

Basic principles of genetics illustrated with examples from prokaryote and eukaryote organisms. Classical genetic techniques as well as molecular and genomic approaches will be discussed. The evolving concept of the gene, of genetic interactions and gene networks, as well as chromosome mechanics will be the focus of the course. Selected topics will include gene regulation, cancer genetics, the human biome, imprinting, and stem cells. Two 90-minute lectures, one precept. Prerequisite: MOL 214 or permission of instructor. Instructed by: M. Abou Donia, M. Levine

MOL 345 Biochemistry (also
CHM 345
) Fall/Spring STN

Fundamental concepts of biomolecular structure and function will be discussed, with an emphasis on principles of thermodynamics, binding and catalysis. A major portion of the course will focus on metabolism and its logic and regulation. Prerequisites: MOL 214/215 and either CHM 302, CHM 304, CHM 304B, CHM 337, or ISC 335. MOL 345 and CHM 302/304 may be taken concurrently. Instructed by: Staff

MOL 348 Cell and Developmental Biology Spring STN

The course will investigate the roles that gene regulation, cell-cell communication, cell adhesion, cell motility, signal transduction and intracellular trafficking play in the commitment, differentiation and assembly of cells into specialized tissues. The mechanisms that underlie development of multicellular organisms, from C. elegans to humans, will be examined using biochemical, genetic and cell biological approaches. In-class problem solving, group work, and active learning approaches will be used to emphasize key concepts and analyze experimental data. Two 90-minute lectures, one precept. Prerequisite: MOL 214. Instructed by: R. Burdine, D. Devenport

MOL 350 Laboratory in Molecular Biology Fall STL

MOL350 prepares students to become contributing members of a research lab. Students will advance as creative, critical thinkers and effective communicators. While completing original research, students will employ techniques used by cell and molecular biologists, molecular geneticists, and biochemists. Students will discover how and why specific knowledge, skills and techniques are applied to the semester's research topic; will practice extracting pertinent information from scientific literature; and will generate a research report modeled on the scientific literature. One lecture, two three-hour laboratories. Prerequisite: MOL 214. Instructed by: J. Schottenfeld-Roames

MOL 380 Modern Microbiology Fall STN

Microbes offer a rich world for exploration, a teeming universe invisible to the naked eye but thrilling in terms of diversity and scope. Human beings could not survive in their absence, yet we often think of them as the enemy. In fact, the majority are beneficial and can be harnessed for good in science and industry. This course will examine both sides: first an overview of microbial growth and function as well as specialized applications in areas such as photosynthesis, synthetic biology, quorum sensing, and CRISPR, with subsequent study of the threats to human health arising from dangerous pathogens that cause bacterial and viral disease. Instructed by: M. Jonikas

MOL 408 Cellular and Systems Neuroscience (See NEU 408)

MOL 410 Introduction to Biological Dynamics Not offered this year STN

Designed for students in the biological sciences, this course focuses on the application of mathematical methods to biological problems. Intended to provide a basic grounding in mathematical modeling and data analysis for students who might not have pursued further study in mathematics. Topics include differential equations, linear algebra, difference equations, and probability. Each topic will have a lecture component and computer laboratory component. Students will work extensively with the computing package MATLAB. No previous computing experience necessary. Two 90-minute lectures, one laboratory. Instructed by: N. Wingreen, T. Gregor

MOL 423 Molecular Basis of Cancer (also
GHP 423
) Not offered this year

We will explore the molecular events leading to the onset and progression of human cancer. We will review the central genetic and biochemical elements that make up the cell cycle, followed by a survey of the signal transduction pathways and checkpoints that regulate it. We will discuss oncogenes, tumor suppressor and mutator genes that act in these pathways and review the role of viral oncogenes and their action on cells. We will investigate the role of cancer stem cells and the interaction between tumor and the host environment. We will explore specific clinical case studies in light of the molecular events underlying different cancers. Instructed by: Y. Kang

MOL 425 Infection: Biology, Burden, Policy (also
WWS 355
GHP 425
) Spring STN

This course will examine fundamental determinants of human microbe interaction at the biological and ecological levels. The focus will be on major global infectious diseases, their burden of illness and policy challenges for adequate prevention and control. Each infectious agent will be discussed in terms of its biology, mechanisms of pathogenesis, and epidemiology, as well as strategies for its control. Specific emphasis will be placed on the public health aspects of each disease. Prerequisite: MOL 101, MOL 214, or permission of instructor. One three-hour lecture. Instructed by: T. Shenk

MOL 433 Biotechnology (also
CBE 434
GHP 433
) Spring STN

This course will consider the principles, development, outcomes and future directions of therapeutic applications of biotechnology, with particular emphasis on the interplay between basic research and clinical experience. Topics to be discussed include production of hormones and other therapeutic proteins, gene therapy, oncolytic viruses, and stem cells. Reading will be from the primary literature. Prerequisite: MOL 214. Instructed by: J. Flint

MOL 435 Pathogenesis and Bacterial Diversity Not offered this year

An examination of current topics exploring the microbial world with emphasis on signal transduction, and the molecular basis for bacterial diversity and their roles in bacterial pathogenesis. Topics will include the regulation of cell division and sporulation, quorum sensing, mechanisms of microbial differentiation, evolution of communicable diseases, molecular mechanisms of pathogenesis, and identification of virulence factor and immunization. Two lectures, one precept. Prerequisites: MOL214 or permission of instructor. Instructed by: Staff

MOL 437 Computational Neuroscience (See NEU 437)

MOL 438 Biomolecular Engineering (See CBE 438)

MOL 440 Genome Integrity and Human Disease Not offered this year STN

This course deals with the basic science that led to the molecular understanding of human diseases associated with defects in genome maintenance, such as aging and cancer. The first two-thirds of each class is a group discussion of an assigned paper. The last third is a lecture-type introduction to the material for the next class. Topics include telomeres, trinucleotide repeats, fragile sites, transcriptional sources of genome instability, and massive genome rearrangements.Two 90-minute seminars. Instructed by: V. Zakian

MOL 447 Neuroimmunology: Immune Molecules in Normal Brain Function and Neuropathology (See NEU 447)

MOL 450 Stem Cells and Cell Fate Decision Processes in the Genomic Era Not offered this year

Focuses on the current state of stem cell research and the future directions for this field. Stem cell research has great promise for the future of regenerative medicine. Very little is known about the molecular biology that underlies stem cell fate determination. The completion of the human and mouse genome sequences, together with novel technologies to observe global gene expression, offer unique opportunities to unravel stem cell regulatory mechanisms. Explores parallels to other, more mature biological systems. Two lectures, one preceptorial. Prerequisite: 342 and 348, or instructor's permission. Instructed by: Staff

MOL 455 Introduction to Genomics and Computational Molecular Biology (See QCB 455)

MOL 459 Viruses: Strategy and Tactics (also
GHP 459
) Fall STN

Viruses are unique parasites of living cells and may be the most abundant, highest evolved life forms on the planet. The general strategies encoded by all known viral genomes are discussed using selected viruses as examples. The course covers the molecular biology (the tactics) inherent in these strategies. It also introduces the biology of engagement of viruses with host defenses, what happens when viral infection leads to disease, vaccines and antiviral drugs, and the evolution of infectious agents and emergence of new viruses. Three lectures, one two-hour preceptorial. Prerequisite: MOL 214 or permission of instructor. Instructed by: L. Enquist

MOL 460 Diseases in Children: Causes, Costs, and Choices (also
STC 460
GHP 460
) Fall EM

Within a broader context of historical, social, and ethical concerns, a survey of normal childhood development and selected disorders from the perspectives of the physician and the scientist. Emphasis on the complex relationship between genetic and acquired causes of disease, medical practice, social conditions, and cultural values. The course features visits from children with some of the conditions discussed, site visits, and readings from the original medical and scientific literature. Prerequisite: MOL 214. Two 90-minute classes and an evening 90-minute precept. Instructed by: D. Notterman

MOL 470 Advanced Topics in Genetic Analysis Not offered this year STN

The application of current tools of human genetics and genomic analysis including SNPs, copy number variants, HapMaps, high throughput DNA sequencing and DNA microarrays to perform genome-wide association studies of complex traits with an emphasis on neurological diseases including autism and schizophrenia. Covers recent evolution within the human species and genetic divergence of human populations in response to selective forces. Extensive use will be made of online genome databases as interactive tools for genome analysis. One three-hour seminar. Prerequisite: MOL 342. Instructed by: Staff

MOL 981 Junior Independent Work Fall

No Description Available Instructed by: Staff