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MUSC Bulletin | College of Graduate Studies

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Section Contents

IntroductionPhD Program | PhD Program of Study |  PhD Program Requirements | PhD Program Requirements for Admission | MS Program | MS Program of Study | MS Program Requirements |  MS Requirements for Admission |  Course Descriptions |


The Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology looks for graduate students who are creative and willing to take a chance in exploring and answering challenging questions. We offer interdisciplinary and collaborative graduate programs with the mission of equipping trainees with the scientific knowledge and expertise they will need to succeed in an increasingly competitive environment for biomedical sciences. Specific areas of interest in the department include cancer biology, cell signaling, lipidomics, enzymology, RNA and DNA biology, microbial pathogenesis and antibiotic resistance, drug discovery and structural biology. Alongside, we offer training in state-of-the-art methodologies: molecular biology, nucleic acid and protein biochemistry, genetics, high-throughput screening, microarrays, mass spectrometry, NMR spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography.

The Department has an outstanding record of extramural funding and in April 2012, was ranked 20th in NIH funding for Biochemistry departments in the United States. The success of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is also exemplified by the number and quality of publications from our research groups. In 2011-12, 72 papers, review articles or book chapters were published from our department in international journals, including Cell, PNAS and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Our faculty has been recognized for success in teaching, service or research, and our students have won numerous oral and poster prizes at national and international meetings, as well as the Perry Halushka MUSC Research Day.

Please refer to our faculty pages for more information on research conducted in the department and feel free to contact any of our faculty about their specific research interests.

For more information regarding the program, students are encouraged to contact Dr. Christopher Davies, Director of the Graduate Training Program in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at, (843) 876 2302, or view our website

Ph.D. Program

A typical course of study for the Ph.D. in Biochemistry is as follows:

Program of Study

First Year

Biomedical Sciences First-Year Curriculum: The First Year Curriculum is offered by the College of Graduate Studies and lays the groundwork for the student’s later advanced coursework and research training in a specific Ph.D. program. There are two main elements: a common curriculum and laboratory rotations. The common curriculum (Foundations of Biomedical Sciences - CGS 701/702) is classroom based and provides essential core knowledge in molecular and cell biology. Laboratory rotations (CGS 720/721) introduce students to potential areas of research and provide training in experimental methods and techniques.

Other elements of the First-Year Curriculum are Essentials of Scientific Practices (CGS 710/711/712), Important Unanswered Questions in the Biomedical Sciences (CGS 760), and program-specific Spring Selectives (BMB 705).

At the end of the first year, students choose their mentor and laboratory for the research project that will be the foundation of their Ph.D. dissertation.

More information about the First-Year Curriculum can be found here:

Second Year

In the second year, a student begins to define and refine their research project, while always remaining cognizant of the ultimate goal of publishing peer-reviewed papers and defending a thesis. Students also select their Advisory Committee, comprising their advisor and four additional faculty members (one from outside the department). In tandem, students accumulate course credits in areas that will complement their laboratory research.

At the end of the year, students take the Written Qualifying Exam, which is administered by the Biochemistry Graduate Training Committee during the first or second week of June. The objective of the examination is to determine whether a student understands the principles of biochemistry and molecular biology, can read and comprehend relevant literature, and can construct convincing hypotheses and a cogent experimental plan. Such skills are essential for a successful career in research.

Third Year

The third year is a continuation of laboratory research and some additional course work. Before the end of the third year and within one year of passing the Written Qualifying Exam, students take the Oral Qualifying Exam, administered by their Advisory Committee. For this exam, students develop a written research proposal in an NIH-grant format on his/her research topic. There is then an oral defense of the proposal, comprising a public presentation of the research project, followed by more detailed examination by the Advisory Committee. After passing the Oral Qualifying Exam, the student is certified as a candidate for the PhD degree. Admission to the candidacy must occur at least one year prior to completing all requirements for PhD.

Fourth/Fifth Year

During the fourth and subsequent years of graduate study in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the primary effort is the research project. The culmination of this endeavor is a dissertation that is based on the research conducted and which shows evidence of mature scholarship and critical judgment. In common with all Ph.D. students at MUSC, the candidate presents his/her work at a public seminar, followed by a closed session with the Advisory Committee. This committee has primary responsibility for evaluating the student’s research, including the written dissertation, the formal oral presentation, and handling of questions.

PhD Program Requirements

  • Successful completion of the First-Year Common Curriculum.
  • Successful completion of a total of 12 credit hours of course work, including a statistics course (see below) and Biochemistry &
  • Molecular Biology’s Selective, Molecular Foundations of Medicine (BMB-605).
  • Statistics requirement: The College of Graduate Studies requires that students demonstrate a predetermined level of statistica competence. This may be achieved by completing MCR-700 in the second or subsequent years of graduate study, or by providing transcript evidence of satisfactory completion of previously-taken statistical course(s) that fulfill the College requirement.
  • Attendance at all Research and Methods seminars and present a seminar in this series at least once per year.
  • Attendance at least 2/3 MCBP seminars in an academic year.
  • Successful completion of the Written Qualifying Examination at the end of 2nd year.
  • Successful completion of the Oral Qualifying Examination within 12 months of passing the Written Qualifier.
  • Publication as first author of at least one original research article in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • 15 credit hours of laboratory research in each semester in the 2nd year and beyond.
  • Successful completion of dissertation proposal and its defense.

Requirements for Admission to the PhD Program

  • Applicants to the Biochemistry PhD program must fulfill all requirements outlined by the College of Graduate Studies. This includes a Bachelors degree or equivalent from a recognized institution and a GPA of at least 3.0.
  • Admissions are handled centrally by the Office of Enrollment:
  • Please select “Biochemistry” if you are interested in our Program of Study.
  • Ideally, students who select the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology for their graduate studies should have a strong background in biological sciences: undergraduate training in organic chemistry and biology are advantageous.

MS Program

The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology also offers a program leading to a Master of Science (MS) degree. The program comprises both didactic and research-based training and culminates in successful defense of a thesis.

Program of Study

A typical course of study for the Masters in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is as follows:

  • First Year

Development of a program of study and its approval by the Graduate Training Director. 12 credit hours of course work (e.g. CGS 701), development of a research project and selection of a Thesis Advisory Committee within 6 months of starting the MS program.

  • Second Year

During the second year, Masters students fulfill any remaining credit hour requirement, continue and then complete their research project, write their thesis and successfully defend it.

Program Requirements

  • Successful completion of 12 credit hours of course work. Aside from Essentials of Scientific Practice (CGS-710), which is taken by all students, courses are decided  with the student’s mentor. Often this will comprise the first 4 units of the common curriculum for first-year PhD students (CGS 701) and Advanced Biochemistry (BMB-735).
  • 15 credit hours of laboratory research in each semester
  • Attendance at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Research and Methods Seminar Series.
  • At least two public presentations of their work to the department, comprising a talk for the Research and Methods Seminar Series (BMB-730) and the thesis defense.
  • At least one original research article published in a peer-reviewed journal as a co-author.
  • Writing of a dissertation thesis and its successful defense.

Admissions Requirements

No single metric is used to assess applicants, but rather a broader picture of the candidate’s qualities is considered by the admissions committee. As guideline, candidates with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or greater, and who have achieved >50th percentile for the Verbal and Quantitative portions of the GRE are more likely to be considered favorably. Experience in research is desirable, although not required. For international students, a TOEFL score of at least 100 is required.

Except in rare cases, we are not able to offer stipends for MS degrees, to read:  No stipends are available for Masters students.

Admissions Deadline

We accept MS students only once per year and the deadline for applications is May 31st. Applications must be submitted online via Enrollment Management. Note, we do not offer conditional acceptance.  Admissions link:

Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences Application

Course Descriptions

Advanced Biochemistry Spring Selective (BMB/PCOL-735) – Co-Directors: Christopher Davies, PhD (Biochemistry), and Lauren Ball, PhD (Pharmacology). Credit hours: 3.  This is a new course that has been developed to equip students with foundational knowledge that is considered essential for a successful career in the field of biochemistry. It includes training in core areas such as enzyme kinetics, thermodynamics, biomolecular interactions, structural biology and biophysics, alongside in-depth examination of publications where such approaches have made a critical impact.

Lipids in Pathobiology (BMB-748/MCBP-748) - Co-Directors: Samar Hammad, PhD, and Ashley Cowart, PhD. Credit hours: 3.  Not offered Spring 2015.
This multidisciplinary course addresses biochemical, applied, and translational approaches to the study of lipids. The course is composed of three main sections: lipid biosynthesis, lipid signaling, and lipids and disease. The first section is a comprehensive treatment of nomenclature and synthesis of major lipid classes including glycerophospholipids, sphingolipids, and sterols, as well as methodology for lipid study. The second section addresses roles of bioactive members of these lipid classes in regulation of cell signaling and downstream events. The third section is largely translational, with many lectures on human diseases that involve the lipids and signaling pathways discussed. This course contains a brief hands-on laboratory segment. This course is open this to graduate students, residents, postdocs, and third and fourth medical students.  Offered every other Spring. 

RNA Biology and Disease (BMB-737) - Co-Directors:  Tilman Heise, PhD, and Gunhild Sommer, PhD. Credit hours: 3.
Alterations in the posttranscriptional control of gene expression can be linked with human diseases such as cancer and viral infection. This new course examines mechanisms of post-transcriptional control, including alternative splicing, changes in mRNA stability or localization, protein synthesis, and expression of micro RNAs, in order to understand how aberrant regulation of gene expression provokes cellular malfunction and potentiates human disease. 

Molecular Foundations of Medicine (BMB-605) - Credit hours: 3.
The course grade is based on class participation (25%) and outside assignments (75%). Outside assignments include written review of scientific manuscripts (40%) and presentation of a scientific paper in class (35%). Merit-based. No minimum number of students; Open to M.S. and Ph.D. students.

Each year one section is offered. Please see below for topics taught in previous years.

BMB-605A. Mechanism of Aging and Life Span

Many pathological processes have become amenable to study using the various tools and approaches of biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, chemistry, and bioinformatics. This is perhaps best illustrated in the study of aging. After decades of little progress, it is now apparent that fundamental processes regulate lifespan of organisms ranging from yeast to Caenorhabditis elegans, to Drosophila, to mice, and, by extension, to humans. These common mechanisms involve transcription factors, insulin-like signaling, lipid signaling pathways, and telomerase. Disorders in these pathways result in disturbances in lifespan, and in some cases in human diseases. This course will provide the students with the necessary foundation in understanding the various models employed for the study of aging and lifespan. The course will rely primarily on original literature and in-depth discussion of key foundation papers. The discussion will be led by expert faculty who will introduce each topic and provide the students with the necessary foundations.

BMB-605B. Mechanisms of Cancer Pathogenesis

The abnormal behavior of neoplastic cells can often be traced to alterations in posttranscriptional control of gene expression. Alternative splicing, changes in mRNA stability, the translational control, and expression of micro RNA having a significant impact on the development of human disease and viral infection. This course will provide the study of basic molecular mechanism and of cellular malfunction provoked by alteration of RNA synthesis and processing.

BMB-605C. Mechanisms of Inflammation

One of the emerging areas of research is the understanding of the mechanism involved in the inflammation process. In particular, bioactive molecules produced by immune system cells are involved in inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, sepsis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and atherosclerosis. This course will provide a study of mechanisms leading to and maintaining the inflammation process, such as dyslipidemia, the leading cause of the inflammation process that leads to the atherothrombotic disease, and the oxidative stress, the pathological factor responsible for this damage. In addition, the course will focus on a variety of stimuli, such as mechanical, anoxic, chemical (e.g. oxidized LDL), immunological or infectious ones, that are responsible for activation of the endothelium. Finally, the course will also examine how many infectious agents regulate the inflammation process, leading either to the control of the infection or the development of infectious disease, depending on the cross talk between the host and the pathogen.

BMB-605D. Pathogenesis of Diabetes

Diabetes is the most common disease in developed countries. Understating its pathogenesis will potentially improve new therapeutic interventions. The role of a particular life style as well as inflammation and autoimmunity have been implicated as crucial factors for the development of diabetes. This course will discuss the molecular mechanisms by which obesity, dyslipidemia, hyperglycemia, inflammation and autoimmunity can lead to the development of diabetes.

BMB-605D. Pathophysiology of Obesity, Diabetes, and the Metabolic Syndrome

Obesity and its pathological sequelae remain a primary health concern. While obesity is associated with diseases including type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and heart disease, mechanisms by which these occur remain unknown. Recent literature implicates altered lipid metabolism in these conditions, including compromised fatty acid oxidation, changes in lipid ‘packaging’ in lipoproteins, and aberrant production of signaling lipids such as diacylglycerols and sphingosine-1-phosphate. Cellular processes linking these biochemical changes to disease include induction of ER stress, apoptosis, autophagy, and induction of oxidative stress responses. This course will provide an overview of clinical, cellular, and molecular/biochemical features of the most common diseases associated with obesity and discuss recent literature providing mechanistic insights into the etiology of these pathophysiological processes.  Course Director: Ashley Cowart, PhD.

BMB-605E. Autophagy and Human Disease

Autophagy is a cellular process in which the cell self-digests its own components to recycle nutrients and to eliminate unnecessary or damaged proteins and organelles. Recent studies have demonstrated the fundamental importance of autophagy in health and disease. Participants will be introduced to the historical overview of the field, the current knowledge on the molecular and cellular mechanisms of autophagy, and how autophagy plays a role in various aspects of human pathophysiology. The discussion topics include autophagy in stress response, infectious diseases, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Research (Variable s.h.) (BMB-970)

Thesis (Variable s.h.) (BMB-980)

Dissertation (Variable s.h.) (BMB-990)

Seminars (Fall and Spring)

All students are expected to participate in the Biochemistry Research and Methods Seminar series and journal clubs, and to attend special departmental or university seminars featuring distinguished scientists from both foreign and domestic institutions.

Students of the Department of Biochemistry will actively participate in selecting and inviting to MUSC one/two speakers per year. The students will host and organize the visit of the speaker to MUSC.

Research and Methods Seminar Series (BMB-730) – Director: Vamsi Gangaraju, PhD. Credit hours: 1.

The Biochemistry Research and Methods Seminar Series is presented on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. In this series, students give a seminar based on their own research to their fellow students, graduate training committee, thesis committee, faculty and post-doctoral fellows in the Department of Biochemistry. This is a great opportunity for the students to present their work in an informal setting and to receive feedback on his/her studies from a large audience with different scientific backgrounds. PhD students are required to present at least once per year.  MS students are required to present at least twice during the course of their studies. For information about the Research and Methods Seminar Series, please contact Belinda Andersen at 843-792-2476,

RNA Club: RNA and Disease – Director: Tilman Heise, PhD

In this forum, faculty, postdocs and students meet once a month to share data, discuss projects, review publications and establish collaborations. Topics cover different aspects of RNA biology and posttranscriptional control of gene expression, with special emphasis of the role of these processes in the development of human disease.



Last Published with Edits:September 17, 2015 12:35 PM
Last Comprehensive Review:Fall 2013

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