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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 |

If you are driven by a curiosity to explore and elucidate the molecular foundations of biology, including the underlying mechanisms of diseases like cancer, metabolic disorders, or infections, then consider pursuing your graduate research in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Our department always seeks creative and ambitious graduate students who are motivated to address critical questions in the biomedical sciences. In turn, our faculty is committed to furnishing students with the requisite skills and knowledge, within a challenging and stimulating environment, as preparation for outstanding careers in science.

The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology offers an interdisciplinary and collaborative research program in diverse areas, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer biology, mitochondrial pathophysiology, cell signaling, apoptosis, and infectious diseases, while employing state-of-the art methodologies and approaches, including molecular biology, nucleic acid and protein biochemistry, genetics, high throughput screening, microarrays, mass spectrometry, NMR spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography. The Department boasts particular strengths in the investigation of bioactive lipids (lipidomics), in DNA and RNA biology, and in structural biology.

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. 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 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 statistical
          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

·         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. 6 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 a minimum of 6 credit hours of course work. The courses are decided with the student’s mentor, but often this will be 3 or more units of the common curriculum for first-year PhD students (CGS 701).
  • 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.

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:

Course Descriptions

Fall Semester

Bio-organic Chemistry (BMB-753) Director: Dr. Erika Büllesbach, Credit hours: 4
A systematic study of the electronic and structural properties of biomolecules and their function as a result of these properties. The material represents a natural extension of the principles of both organic chemistry and biochemistry. Protein chemistry, enzyme mechanisms and cofactor functionality are among the topics covered. (Prerequisite: basic organic chemistry.)

Contemporary topics in Biochemistry: Molecular Basis of Apoptosis (BMB 702) Director: Sergey Krupenko; Co-director: Yi-Te Hsu, Credit hours: 2
This course introduces students to one of the fastest growing fields of modern molecular/cellular biology. The primary focus of this course is to provide a current overview of the apoptotic pathways and the involvement of apoptosis in the maintenance of cellular homeostasis and in pathological states such as cancer, ischemia, and degenerative diseases. Students learn the current techniques involved in apoptosis detection and in the characterization of the different components of the apoptotic pathways. Students also discuss the latest research in the apoptosis field in the form of a journal review.

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

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

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

Spring Semester

Lipids in Pathobiology (BMB-748/MCBP-748) Co-Directors: Drs. Samar Hammad and Ashley Cowart, Credit hours: 3
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.

Molecular Foundations of Medicine (BMB-605, Spring Selective) Director, Christopher Davies, Credit hours: 3
In the second half of the spring semester, doctoral training programs in the College of Graduate Studies offer First Year Curriculum students a choice of discipline- or program-specific courses. These seven-week “Selectives” provide students with more focused studies in their specific fields of interest. For its selective, the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has developed a series of courses that are offered on a rotating basis, one each year:

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 provides 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 provides 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 examines 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, has been implicated as crucial factors for the development of diabetes. This course discusses the molecular mechanisms by which obesity, dyslipidemia, hyperglycemia, inflammation and autoimmunity can lead to the development of diabetes.

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.

Advanced Biochemistry (starts 2015) Co-Directors: Yong-Mei Zhang, PhD, 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.

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

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

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

Seminars (Fall and Spring)
All Biochemistry students are expected to participate in the Biochemistry Research and Methods Seminar series, 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 actively participate in selecting, inviting and hosting one or two speakers per year.

Research and Methods Seminar Series (BMB-730)  Director: Yong-Mei Zhang, PhD, Credit hours: 1
The Biochemistry Research and Methods Seminar Series is presented on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month. In this series, students give a seminar based on their own research to the students, post-doctoral fellows and faculty of 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. Students are required to give at least two seminars during their period of training. For information about the Research and Methods Seminar Series, please contact Belinda Andersen at 843-792-2476,

Biochemistry Journal Club (BMB-607) Director: Ashley Cowart, PhD, Credit hours: 1
With an informal format that is ideal for in-depth examination and exploration of scientific topics, students present published papers related to their ongoing research.



Last Published with Edits:October 31, 2013 3:55 PM
Last Comprehensive Review:Fall 2013

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