Molecular Biology

Program Offerings

Offering type
A.B.

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.

The Department of Molecular Biology is the core of the life sciences at Princeton. We are a world-class faculty with diverse research interests spanning molecular, cell and systems biology, and we study organisms ranging from viruses, bacteria and yeast to worms, flies, fish, mice and humans. Many of our faculty have joint appointments in the Departments of Chemistry, Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyEngineeringPhysics and the Lewis Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics or the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. The uncommon level of interdisciplinary interactions provides an exceptional environment for learning and research.

Students considering a major 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.

Goals for Student Learning

The undergraduate program in molecular biology is designed to equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to explore the central questions of 21st century biology. The curriculum provides broad foundational knowledge in core disciplines including molecular, cellular and developmental biology, biochemistry and genetics. Students acquire depth by pursuing sub-disciplines of interest in greater detail and sophistication in upper-level elective courses, which emphasize current topics and readings from the primary literature. Because the best way to learn science is by doing science, students conduct original research at the frontiers of modern science for their independent work. In addition to becoming a scholar in their chosen field, students will become adept at formulating testable hypotheses, planning and executing well-controlled experiments, analyzing and interpreting data and formally presenting their findings both orally and in writing.

Prerequisites

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 equivalent are also required to enter the department. (For the Class of 2027 and beyond, the equivalent is AP + CHM202/215 or requirement fulfillment through the chemistry placement test.) 

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

Note that CHM 303 and 304 or CHM 337 must also be completed before the junior year (see Requirements).  

Program of Study

General Requirements

The following courses are required:

Organic Chemistry

CHM 301 and 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 junior year.

Quantitative

Students satisfy the quantitative requirement by taking one course in statistics (SML 201, ORF 245, or MOL 290) 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

Physics 108 (strongly recommended), or PHY 103 and 104, or PHY 101 and 102. PHY 108 is a one-semester, biologically oriented alternative to the traditional full-year sequences. Premedical students who need 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 320/350. Except under very special circumstances, these courses must be taken before senior year. MOL 350 is offered in the fall to junior majors and is the conventional path for the major. MOL 320 has limited enrollment and is offered in the spring to sophomores who intend to major in MOL and plan to study abroad, or have taken/are concurrently taking MOL 348 and want an early introduction to research methods and laboratory experience. MOL 320 and MOL 350 are considered equivalent courses and only one can be taken.

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. 

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-cross-listed, or other approved courses (see list on department website). Note that CHM 301, CHM 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 pass/D/fail). The sole exception is that, at the point of declaring the MOL major, 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 junior year, students participate in small group tutorials led by postdocs in which they read papers from the original literature and prepare two critical analysis 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 junior paper in the form of a grant proposal.

Senior Independent Work

During 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 majors who wish to study abroad must complete the following courses by the end of sophomore year: MOL 214 (or ISC 231-234), CHM 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 independent work. 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 major graduate with fewer than eight approved departmentals taken at Princeton.

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

Additional Information

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 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/minor 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 major 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 majors 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 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 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.

Faculty

  • Chair

    • Bonnie L. Bassler
  • Associate Chair

    • Jean E. Schwarzbauer
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies

    • Elizabeth R. Gavis
  • Director of Graduate Studies

    • Ileana M. Cristea
  • Professor

    • Bonnie L. Bassler
    • Rebecca D. Burdine
    • Ileana M. Cristea
    • Elizabeth R. Gavis
    • Zemer Gitai
    • Frederick M. Hughson
    • Yibin Kang
    • Alexei V. Korennykh
    • Michael S. Levine
    • Coleen T. Murphy
    • Alexander Ploss
    • Paul D. Schedl
    • Jean E. Schwarzbauer
    • Stanislav Y. Shvartsman
    • Thomas J. Silhavy
    • Jeffry B. Stock
    • Ned S. Wingreen
  • Associate Professor

    • Mohamed S. Abou Donia
    • Danelle Devenport
    • Martin C. Jonikas
    • Sabine Petry
    • Jared E. Toettcher
    • Martin Helmut Wühr
  • Assistant Professor

    • Brittany Adamson
    • John F. Brooks
    • Michelle M. Chan
    • John Jimah
    • Ai Ing Lim
    • Ricardo Mallarino
    • Cameron A. Myhrvold
    • Eszter Posfai
    • AJ te Velthuis
  • Associated Faculty

    • José L. Avalos, Chemical and Biological Eng
    • Lisa M. Boulanger, Princeton Neuroscience Inst
    • Clifford P. Brangwynne, Chemical and Biological Eng
    • Mark P. Brynildsen, Chemical and Biological Eng
    • Daniel J. Cohen, Mechanical & Aerospace Eng
    • Thomas Gregor, Physics
    • Ralph E. Kleiner, Chemistry
    • A. James Link, Chemical and Biological Eng
    • Lindy McBride, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
    • Tom Muir, Chemistry
    • Celeste M. Nelson, Chemical and Biological Eng
    • Joshua D. Rabinowitz, Chemistry
    • Mohammad R. Seyedsayamdost, Chemistry
    • Joshua W. Shaevitz, Physics
    • Stanislav Y. Shvartsman, Chemical and Biological Eng
    • Mona Singh, Computer Science
    • Howard A. Stone, Mechanical & Aerospace Eng
    • John D. Storey, Integrative Genomics
    • Olga G. Troyanskaya, Computer Science
    • Samuel S. Wang, Princeton Neuroscience Inst
    • Bridgett M. vonHoldt, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
  • Professor Emeritus (teaching)

    • Sarah J. Flint
  • Professor of the Practice

    • Daniel A. Notterman
  • University Lecturer

    • Heather A. Thieringer
  • Senior Lecturer

    • Jodi Schottenfeld-Roames
  • Lecturer

    • Georgina D. Benn
    • Anthar S. Darwish
    • Yujiao Han
    • Grace E. Johnson
    • Laurel Lorenz
    • Karin R. McDonald
  • Visiting Lecturer with Rank of Professor

    • John J. Tyson

For a full list of faculty members and fellows please visit the department or program website.

Courses

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

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. B. Bassler, R. Mallarino, J. Schottenfeld-Roames

MOL 110 - Neuroscience and Everyday Life (also NEU 101/STC 102) Not offered this year SEL

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

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. Staff

MOL 320 - Experimental Molecular Biology Spring SEL

MOL320 is a spring semester, sophomore-level alternative to MOL350. Individuals who are interested in an early research experience that substitutes for MOL350-Laboratory in Molecular Biology can enroll in this course. The purpose of MOL320 is to prepare you to be a contributing member of a research lab and to foster creative, critical thinking and effective communication skills. While completing original research, you will employ techniques used by cell and molecular biologists and developmental geneticists. You will practice extracting pertinent information from scientific literature and will generate a final research report on your work. L. Lorenz

MOL 327 - Immune Systems: From Molecules to Populations (also EEB 327/GHP 327) Fall SEN

MOL 340 - Molecular and Cellular Immunology Spring SEN

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. A. Ploss

MOL 342 - Genetics Spring SEN

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. M. Abou Donia, M. Levine

MOL 345 - Biochemistry (also CHM 345) Fall/Spring SEN

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 and either CHM 302, 304, 304B, or 337. Staff

MOL 348 - Cell and Developmental Biology Spring SEN

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. R. Burdine, D. Devenport

MOL 350 - Laboratory in Molecular Biology Fall SEL

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. J. Schottenfeld-Roames

MOL 380 - Modern Microbiology: Into the Microverse! Fall SEN

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. M. Jonikas

MOL 408 - Cellular and Systems Neuroscience (also NEU 408/PSY 404) Not offered this year SEN

MOL 415 - Modern Biophysics and Systems Biology Fall

At 10 nanometer scale, protein machines 'walk' on microtubule tracks. At a scale 10,000 times larger, sheets of cells self-organize to form ornate shapes that can even heal themselves after injury. This course will examine these and other complex biological systems at the molecular, cellular, and tissue scales. In parallel, we will cover the current and emerging methods that enable us to quantitatively probe and analyze biological systems. Specific topics will include structural biology from crystallography to cryo-electron microscopy, enzyme kinetics and networks, next-gen sequencing and data mining, modern microscopy and image analysis. Staff

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. Y. Kang

MOL 425 - Infection: Biology, Burden, Policy (also GHP 425/SPI 355) Not offered this year SEN

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. T. Shenk

MOL 431 - Regulatory Mechanisms in Development Fall SEN

How do organisms ensure that genes are expressed at the right time and place as they develop from a single egg cell into a multicellular animal? In this seminar style course, we will explore some of the diverse mechanisms that control gene expression, including those involved in transcriptional regulation, epigenetic silencing, translational regulation and cell-cell signaling. By reading and critically evaluating the primary literature, we will explore many of the crucial molecular biology, cell biology and genetics techniques that have helped illuminate the gene regulatory mechanisms that are essential for animal development. P. Schedl

MOL 433 - Biotechnology (also CBE 434/GHP 433) Fall SEN

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. S. Flint

MOL 437 - Systems Neuroscience: Computing with Populations of Neurons (also NEU 437/PSY 437) Not offered this year SEL

MOL 438 - Biomolecular Engineering (also CBE 438) Spring

MOL 440 - The Physical Basis of Human Disease (also CBE 440/GHP 450) Not offered this year

MOL 447 - Neuroimmunology: Immune Molecules in Normal Brain Function and Neuropathology (also GHP 447/NEU 447) Not offered this year SEN

MOL 455 - Introduction to Genomics and Computational Molecular Biology (also COS 455/QCB 455) Fall QCR

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

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. A part of the course is dedicated to the molecular biology (the tactics) inherent in these strategies. Another part 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. Prerequisite: MOL 214 or permission of instructor. I. Cristea

MOL 460 - Diseases in Children: Causes, Costs, and Choices (also GHP 460/STC 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. D. Notterman