What is molecular biology and genetics?

Molecular biology and genetics involves seeking to understand the fundamental building blocks of life through the exploration of genes and their impact on cell function.

What does your coursework look like?

Molecular biology and genetics courses aim to impart students with a baseline of knowledge, the ability and confidence to ask scientific questions and the creativity to design experiments to address those questions, the skills needed to conduct experiments and interpret data, practical experience with communicating science to other scientists and non-science audiences.

Develop a baseline of knowledge:

Introductory Molecular Biology and Genetics (BIOL133)
Molecular Cell Biology (BIOL233)

Develop the ability and confidence to ask scientific questions and the creativity to design experiments:

Molecular Methods (BIOL243)
Microbiology (BIOL340)
Biochemistry (BIOL316)

Develop the skills needed to conduct experiments and interpret data:

Molecular Methods (BIOL243)
Microbiology (BIOL340)
Molecular Revolutions in Medicine (BIOL318)
Experimental Neurobiology (NEUR351)

Develop practical experience with communicating science:

The Biology of Aging (BIOL325)
Senior Seminar (BIOL325)

What are the requirements for the degree

Where do we work?

In our state-of-the-art laboratories: Sewanee has several state-of-the-art molecular and neurobiological laboratories with equipment for tissue culture, electrophysiology, fluorescence microscopy, and molecular biology. Students work with faculty members in these laboratories to address important questions about the natural world and the inner workings of our cells.

Yale Medical School: Through the Sewanee-at-Yale program, Sewanee students have the opportunity to spend time at Yale Medical School where they do research with a Yale faculty member and take advanced coursework.

Vanderbilt University: Through the Vanderbilt-Sewanee Undergraduate Research Experience (V-SURE) Sewanee students have the opportunity for a fully-funded, two summer program, in partnership with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, geared for students intending to pursue a career in medicine (MD/PhD) who are interested in both biomedical research and patient care. 

What types of questions do our faculty address?

Elise A. Kikis
I use the genetic model system Caenorhabditis elegans to study intrinsic factors, such as genes and aging, as well as extrinsic factors, such as air pollution, that contribute to protein misfolding. This translates to human health because many neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, are associated with protein misfolding in neurons.

Chris Shelley
I am a neurobiologist with interests in linking events at the molecular and cellular levels to behavior. In my lab, the students and I use a combination of electrophysiology and behavioral pharmacology to investigate electrical activity in muscles and neurotransmitter function in the simple nervous system of the sea urchin.

Clint Smith
I study how coronavirus nonstructural proteins synthesize and modify viral RNA. Students and I use the murine coronavirus, mouse hepatitis virus, as a safe and tractable model system. A more thorough understanding of how these viral proteins work could inform the development of new antiviral drugs.

Kirk Zigler
I study the evolution and development of invertebrate animals, focusing on cave biodiversity in the southern Appalachians. Sewanee and its immediate surroundings support a diverse community of cave animals. Most of these animals are poorly known and provide exciting opportunities for student-led research.

How do you get involved with research in the Biology Department at Sewanee?

Independent research projects are a great way to hone analytical skills, learn to synthesize information, and work collaboratively as part of a dynamic team. Students of all experience levels and career aspirations are encouraged to dive deeply into independent research projects through our tiered research program, which gets students started earlier in their college careers and which can culminate in an honors thesis.