Philosophy and Structure of Advanced Molecular Biology
The main objective of the course is to teach students the basic facts and principles of molecular biology and the ability to think and reason with them. Because the area of molecular genetics-molecular biology is relatively mature, it is possible to teach the principles and require that students learn how to apply them. Realistically, this is the only reasonable approach to the subject since molecular genetics now is far too advanced, large, and complex for much value to come from attempting to cover the material in an encyclopedia-like fashion where only facts must be learned. Only the core of molecular genetics can be covered by using such an approach, however, but most of the remainder of the vast subject is a logical extension of the basic ideas and principles. One consequence of the principles and analysis approach is that the course is not easy. Students say they work hard on this course, both in learning the material and in learning how to think and to solve difficult problems.
An auxiliary objective of the design of the course is to help students develop an appreciation for elegant and beautiful experiments. A substantial number of such experiments are explained in lecture or in the text, and many more are described in the required readings.
Although the ideal preparation for taking the course would be the completion of preliminary courses in biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, and physical chemistry, few students have such a background. Most commonly, only one or two of the above-mentioned courses have been taken, with some students coming from a more physical or chemical background, and other students coming from a more biological background.
Students receive information from four main sources, lectures, the text, the assigned readings, and their own explorations on the web.
The course consists of two lecture-discussions per week, with the topics of most chapters of the text "Genetics and Molecular Biology" being covered in one session. The "lectures" format is designed to encourage active rather than passive learning. Often the classroom material summarizes a chapter and then discuss in depth a recent paper that extends the material of the chapter. Additional readings of original research papers are an important part of the course, and two to six important, relevant, and current papers are assigned per lecture and often partially discussed during a lecture or the following lecture. Normally, two or three challenging problems are assigned per lecture. The solutions to these problems are graded by a TA These homework problems count for approximately one third in the final grade.
The three examinations of one and one-half hour are given in the semester. Solving the exam problems requires thinking and working with ideas and material covered in the lectures, text, homework problems, and assigned readings in contrast to recollection of memorized material.