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College of Letters & Science

Molecular Biology

About the Major
Undergraduate Research
Requirements for the Major
Honors in the Major

152 Birge Hall, 430 Lincoln Drive, Madison, WI 53706; 608-890-3099; molecularbiomajor@ls.wisc.edu; www.molecularbio.ls.wisc.edu

Committee of Advisors: Ahmad (Dermatology), Amann (Zoology), Fabry (Pathology and Laboratory Medicine), Filutowicz (Bacteriology), Martin (Biochemistry), McMahon (Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering), Schuler (Comparative Biosciences), Skop (Genetics)

About the Major

Molecular biology is the basic science that seeks an understanding of biological processes in terms of the properties and functions of the molecules that make up living cells. The scope of questions addressed in molecular biology ranges from evolution to development to the regulation of gene expression. A career in molecular biology requires a strong background in biology as well as a solid foundation  in chemistry, mathematics, and physics.

The molecular biology major has been designed primarily for three groups of students: (a) those who plan to enter a research career in molecular biology or related areas such as biochemistry, genetics, oncology, microbiology, cell biology or developmental biology; (b) pre-professional students who plan to enter either a research or clinical career in medicine, or allied health fields; (c) students who plan to teach biology at the college or secondary-school levels. Students with other interests are also welcome, of course. Career opportunities for students with an undergraduate degree in molecular biology are amazingly diverse. Graduates of the program have gone into patent law, science journalism, forensics, philosophy, nutrition, genetic counseling, veterinary medicine, anthropology, archeology, marine biology, theology, and much more.

Major requirements have been set to assure a high degree of proficiency in the various areas specified while still allowing as much flexibility as possible for students to individualize their programs. For the undergraduate interested in life sciences, this major uniquely provides access to the extraordinary scope and strength of biology courses and laboratories on the UW–Madison campus. Each student in the major is assigned a faculty advisor, and it is hoped that students will take advantage of both the staff and faculty advising service available to make a judicious choice of courses, as well as to gain scholarly experience outside the classroom that will further their academic and career goals.

Students who wish to obtain further information about the program or to declare a molecular biology major should contact the student services coordinator. Faculty advisors are assigned through the program office and are located in many related departments throughout campus. Molecular biology faculty advisors are especially competent to provide counsel regarding the major and career opportunities in molecular biology.

Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate molecular biology students at UW–Madison are fortunate to have the opportunity to work with some of the world's leading researchers. Many opportunities for laboratory research experience are available on campus for undergraduate students and this type of experiences is strongly encouraged. Such an experience provides students the opportunity to apply what they're learning and compliment their knowledge with practical skills. Research experience is highly valued by employers, graduate programs, and professional schools. See the major website for more information on how to get involved in undergraduate research.


Students in the major are assigned to a team of advisors composed of a faculty advisor and a the major's student services coordinator. See the major's advising page for a list of advisors and for the student services coordinator information. The faculty advisor provides guidance specific to the molecular biology discipline through discussions about undergraduate experiences (i.e., research, coursework, internships) that will help prepare students for graduate work or a career after graduation. The student services coordinator provides guidance specific to the discipline, and also helps students with  major declarations, course selection, registration, DARS, L&S degree and major requirements, and tracking progress toward graduation, as well as connecting students with important resources on campus.

Requirements for the Major


Math 221 Calculus and Analytic Geometry or Math 211
AND Math 222 Calculus and Analytic Geometry or Math 213 Calculus and Introduction to Differential Equations or Stat 301 Introduction to Statistical Methods or Stat 371 Introductory Applied Statistics for the Life Sciences


a. General and Analytic Chemistry
Choose one of three options:
Chemistry 109 General Analytical Chemistry AND one semester of Analytical Chemistry: Chemistry 327 or Chemistry 329
OR Chemistry 115 and 116 Chemical Principles (enrollment in Chemistry 115 is by consent of instructor only)
OR Chemistry 103 and 104: General Chemistry AND one semester of Analytical Chemistry: Chemistry 327 OR Chemistry 329

b. Organic Chemistry
Chemistry 343 Introductory Organic Chemistry
AND Chemistry 344 Introductory Organic Chemistry Lab
AND Chemistry 345 Intermediate Organic Chemistry


Choose one of two options:
Physics 201 and 202 General Physics
Physics 207 and 208 General Physics


a. General Biology and Genetics
Choose from one of two options.
Biology/Botany/Zoology 151 Introductory Biology
Biology/Botany/Zoology 152 Introductory Biology
AND Botany/Genetics/Zoology 466 General Genetics
Biocore:  Biocore is highly selective and is based upon applications due in mid-March. Students should consult their advisor and the Biocore office in 345 Noland Hall. Students may find more information here.
Biocore/Biology 381 Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics
AND Biocore/Biology 382 Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics Laboratory
AND Biocore/Biology 383 Cellular Biology
AND Biocore/Biology 384 Cellular Biology Laboratory
AND Biocore/Biology 485 Organismal Biology

b. Biochemistry
Choose one of the two options below.
Biochem 501 Introduction to Biochemistry
OR Biochem 507 and 508 General Biochemistry
*If students take Biochem 507 and 508, 3 credits count toward meeting this Biochemistry requirement and the remaining 3 count toward meeting the Advanced Courses requirement in area E.

c. Molecular Biology
Minimum 3 credits. Choose from the list of approved courses below. Please note that no course substitutions will be authorized for this requirement.
Agronomy/Hort 339 Plant Biotechnology Principles and Techniques I
OR Agronomy/Hort 340 Plant Biotechnology Principles and Techniques II
OR Biochem/Genetics/Microbio 612 Prokaryotic Molecular Genetics*
OR Biochem/Genetics 620 Eukaryotic Molecular Biology*
OR Genetics 545 Genetics Laboratory (2 credits)
OR Hort 500 Molecular Biology Techniques
OR Hort 550 Molecular Approaches for Crop Improvement*


Minimum of two courses total required (at least 6 credits total), each course from a different section.  

a. Development
Botany 500 Plant Physiology*
Zoology 470 Introduction to Animal Development*
Zoology 555 Laboratory in Developmental Biology
Zoology 625 Development of the Nervous System

b. Microbiology
Botany/Pl Path 505 Plant–Microbe Interactions: Molecular and Ecological Aspects*
Microbio 303 Biology or Microorganisms
Microbio 304 Biology of Microorganisms Laboratory
Microbio 330 Host–Parasite Interactions
Microbio/Pl Path 622 Plant Bacterial Interactions*
Microbio/Oncology/Pl Path 640: General Virology—Multiplication of Viruses*
MM&I 575 Biology of Viruses (2 credits)

c. Genetics
Agronomy/Hort 338 Plant Breeding and Biotechnology
Genetics/Botany/Hort 561 Introductory Cytogenetics*
Genetics/Med Genet 565 Human Genetics*
Genetics 566 Advanced Genetics
Microbio 470 Microbial Genetics & Molecular Machines
Microbio/Genetics 607 Advanced Microbial Genetics*

d. Cell Biology (Endocrinology, Neurobiology, Immunology)
Biochem/Phmacol-M/Zool 630 Cellular Signal Transduction Mechanisms*
Biocore 333 Biological Interactions
Human Onc 640 Biochemical Mechanisms of Tumor Promotion and Progression*
Microbio/MM&I 528 Immunology
MM&I 341 Immunology
Neurosci/Zool 523 Neurobiology*
Oncology 401 Introduction to Experimental Oncology
Zoology 570 Cell Biology*

e. Biochemistry and Physical Chemistry
Biochem/Nutr Sci 510 Biochemical Principles of Human and Animal Nutrition
Biochem 550 Topics in Medical Biochemistry*
Biochem/Botany 621 Plant Biochemistry*
Biochem 651 Biochemical Methods*
Chem 561 Physical Chemistry*
Chem 565 Biophysical Chemistry*
Physiol 533 Molecular Physiology

f. Quantitative and Computational Sciences
BMI/Comp Sci 576 Introduction to Bioinformatics*
Botany 563: Phylogenetic Analysis of Molecular Data
Comp Sci/I Sy E/Math 425 Introduction to Combinatorial Optimization*
F&W Ecol/Hort/Stat 571 Statistical Methods for Bioscience I*
F&W Ecol/Hort/Stat 572 Statistical Methods for Bioscience II*
Stat 333 Applied Regression Analysis
Stat 541 Introduction to Biostatistics*

*Courses so designated may be used to satisfy the requirements for Honors in Molecular Biology.


Students must complete a minimum of 2 credits in a laboratory or research experience or course.

There are three different ways to complete the requirement for a laboratory or independent research experience in molecular biology:

  • Students may select an approved lab/research course from the Molecular Biology 4c requirement
    • Select from: Hort/Path-Bio 500
  • or select an approved lab/research course from the Advanced Courses categories
    • Select from: Bmolchem 504, Microbio 304, Biochem 651
  • or complete an independent project or research thesis. Although research experience is not required for the nonhonors major, all students are encouraged the take advantage of the opportunities UW-Madison's research community has to offer. Students can select from MolBio 681/682 (Senior Honors Thesis), MolBio 691/692 (Non-Honors Thesis), or MolBio 699: Directed Studies.

*If a Senior Thesis or Directed Studies project is not a laboratory-based research experience, the student must meet this requirement by completing a laboratory course (i.e., Hort/Path-Bio 500, Bmolchem 504, Microbio 304, or Biochem 651).

**For information on finding an independent lab or research experience and scholarships, check out the Undergraduate Research page.

Honors in the Major

The honors student in molecular biology is one who wishes to prepare for graduate or professional school in the most rigorous and challenging ways available on this campus. For the honors student in molecular biology, our faculty endeavor to provide enriching academic opportunities: these include a selection from the list of advanced courses that represent some of the most challenging courses the UW–Madison campus has to offer, opportunities to interact directly with faculty in both research and other scholarly ways, and student-driven opportunities to share experiences and intellectual stimulation with other honors students. Typically, honors students will seek admission to Honors in Molecular Biology during the sophomore or early in the junior year. Students will be awarded their degree with Honors in Molecular Biology if they:

  • complete all requirements for the major with a GPA in the major of 3.5 and an overall GPA of 3.3 in all courses taken at UW–Madison;
  • complete the requirement for molecular biology and advanced courses from a list of courses approved for honors (approved courses are designated above by *);
  • register for Molecular Biology 681 and 682 for two semesters between the completion of the second semester as a junior and the end of the semester of graduation and during this period complete an acceptable senior honors thesis in molecular biology; and
  • complete one semester of a Senior Honors Seminar in Molecular Biology (Mol Biol 686)