MOLECULAR AND CELLULAR BIOLOGY
Professor Rachelle Gaudet, Head Tutor
The Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) concentration is primarily concerned with the understanding of biological processes based on the study of molecules and their interactions in the context of cells and tissues. It integrates many different methodologies ranging from chemistry and genetics to computer science and engineering. The concentration focuses on fundamental principles of modern biology at the hub of nearly all life science sub-disciplines.
The cell is the fundamental unit of all living things and is therefore an ideal framework for integrating one’s understanding of the structure and chemistry of macromolecules with their higher order organization and behavior in a living context. Molecular and Cellular Biology is therefore intended for students who wish to synthesize fundamental concepts in chemistry, physics, and mathematics through the study of cellular processes. It is designed especially for those who anticipate careers in the biological sciences, including developmental biology, immunology, stem cell biology, microbiology, genomics, and bioinformatics, or in medicine, but is also excellent preparation for careers outside of science and medicine, such as in the fields of public health, science policy, law and intellectual property, business, education, and science writing.
Many critical advances in molecular and cellular biology have been made possible by the use of sophisticated chemical and physical methods; others have involved a combination of genetic and biochemical techniques. The explosive growth in our understanding of the properties and functions of individual macromolecules creates new opportunities to integrate this knowledge into a more coherent understanding of fundamental biological processes. The concentration requirements establish a solid foundation in basic biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics, which is followed by more advanced course work designed to expose students to major avenues of inquiry in molecular and cellular biology. Questions that can now be studied directly include many of the central issues in biology: How is genetic information transformed into the structure of an organism? How does one cell divide accurately into two? How do individual cells coordinate with their neighbors in the context of a multicellular organism? Molecular descriptions are being sought for the ways in which cells differentiate and communicate, for the nature of hormonal control, for mechanisms that convert sensory stimuli into nerve impulses, for events in the immune response, and for the pathogenesis of human diseases.
The concentration is administered by the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and the Board of Tutors in Biochemical Sciences, which includes faculty members from other science departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Harvard Medical School. A minimum of 15 half-courses is required for the concentration, one of which must have a significant component of independent laboratory research. A written thesis or the non-thesis option is required for honors candidates. The non-thesis option requires one additional half-course chosen from advanced project lab offerings or supervised research and an honors essay assigned by the Board of Tutors that integrates the student's research experiences. Concentration requirements may not be taken Pass/Fail. Transfer credits are considered on an individual basis by the head tutor.
The Board of Tutors in Biochemical Sciences, which was established in 1926, runs the Tutorial program for the Molecular and Cellular Biology concentration and the Chemical and Physical Biology concentration. The tutorial program offers individualized instruction to all concentrators beginning at the time of declaration. Concentrators typically meet with their tutors every two weeks and discuss primary research literature in a small group or one-on-one setting. Mentoring on career choices, the research experience, and other academic matters is a logical extension of the tutorial. The tutorial is not taken for credit and therefore does not appear on the study card or transcript. The head tutor and concentration adviser make all tutorial assignments and are available throughout the academic year to answer questions from students or their tutors. A handout that describes the history, goals, and format of the tutorial program is available on the web.
A complete description of the concentration requirements may be found within the Harvard College Handbook for Students.