Molecular and cellular biology lie at the very heart of the fundamental life sciences, and current breakthroughs in these fields are changing the outlook on the future of mankind dramatically. Some scientists are even speaking about the next step in evolution. Personalised medicine, Stem cell research, organoids and molecular techniques such as CRISPR-Cas which allow us to very precisely change not only our own hereditary material, but also that of other organisms present in our biosphere, yield unprecedented opportunities, but obviously also dangers. A life science curriculum without these disciplines would therefore be unthinkable, especially at a liberal arts and science college.
Whether you are planning a career as a life science researcher, as a physician, in the pharmaceutical industry, in biotechnology, in agriculture or if you are just genuinely interested in life as such, molecular biology is indispensable.
Even if you are not planning a career as a life scientist, fundamental knowledge about how life “works” adds a dimension to the awareness of the beauty of it. Life is (composed of) cells, and those cells are programmed by the interaction between their epi-genome (their hereditary material) and their surroundings (the outside world and other cells). So, in order to understand processes such as cancer and embryogenesis (the formation of an entire organism, from just one cell, the fertilized egg) molecular cell biological approaches are indispensable.
The Molecular Cell Biology track comprises many courses: Cell biology 1 (UCSCIBIO11), Cell biology 2 (UCSCIBIO21), Advanced cell biology (UCSCIBIO31), Advanced Biotechnology (UCSCIBIO32), and Stem cells, Development and Cancer (UCSCIBIO34). While the level 1 courses use textbooks to teach you the basics, level 2 courses already move to understanding primary literature, while in the level 3 track finishers, emphasis is on identifying knowledge gaps and thinking about and designing project proposals yourself.
The Molecular Cell Biology track connects logically to the Physiology track (UCSCIBIO13 / UCSCIBIO23 / UCSCIBIO33). Together they are called the Biology track, which is also part of the larger (Pre-)Medical Science track. The kinetics and dynamics of pharmacological compounds can be learned in Pharmacology (UCSCIMED32), but understanding their working mechanisms requires basic cell biological knowledge, which also pertains to the courses Mechanisms of disease (UCSCIMED21) and Immunology and infectious diseases (UCSCIMED31).
Obviously there are connections to Biochemistry (UCSCICHE23) and even to Cognitive Neuroscience I and II (UCSCICOG11 and 21), especially when it comes to understanding the workings of psychofarmaca.
The Molecular Cell Biology track is organized in a quite linear fashion; only after completing BIO11 successfully you are allowed to enter BIO21. In turn, BIO21 is a prerequisite for BIO31, BIO32 and BIO34, which are all considered track finishers. BIO11 and 21 are available in both semesters, while BIO31 is only instructed in the Fall semester, and BIO32 and 34 only in the Spring semester.
There are lab courses available encompassing the molecular part of the Biology track.
The fundamental nature of the Molecular Cell Biology track provides you with the knowledge and skills necessary for a wide range of master programs in the life sciences. With a few exceptions (such as pharmaceutical sciences or veterinary sciences), no additional work is required for entry into these programmes.
With the appropriate combination of tracks (see Pre-Medical science track) you could proceed to the Selective Utrecht Medical Master (SUMMA)
Two other possibilities at Utrecht University are:
Master’s programmes at Wageningen University & Research (WUR):
UCSCIBIO11 Molecular cell biology 1
This course is an introduction to the fundamental characteristics of life on earth.
UCSCIBIO21 Molecular cell biology 2
This is the second in a series of three integrated courses in molecular cell biology.
UCSCIBIO31 Advanced Cell Biology
In this course, the focus lies on reading primary scientific research articles and writing a research project in a specific area of cell biology.
UCSCIBIO32 Advanced Biotechnology
In this course, the key concepts in the field are presented and the present and future uses of biotechnology are explored. Special attention is paid to the impact of new biotechnological developments on society.
UCSCIBIO34 Stem cells, development and cancer
This course concentrates on state-of-the-art developmental research, emphasizing the experimental, rather than the theoretical. General discussions on selected chapters of the textbook are followed by readings and discussions of primary research papers.
Dr. Bas Defize is the Molecular Cell Biology fellow at University College Utrecht.