This field essentially started with the discovery, in the early 1950’s, of the structure of DNA by Franklin, Wilkins, Watson and Crick. This discovery initiated what some have called a revolution in genetic science that continues to this day. New discoveries are coming out weekly. As an important research tool, molecular biology is having a significant impact on every area of study in biology and is beginning to reshape how we think about ourselves as human beings. Of course all this comes with new and difficult ethical questions that we must face as individuals and as a society.
At Saint Mary’s this discipline is covered in several upper division laboratory courses including Molecular Biology, Genetics, Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology after a firm introduction in our introductory course, Biology 1. Consequently all Biology majors gain significant experience in the techniques and practice of hands-on work in molecular biology, or “molecular genetics’ as it is often called.
Ongoing faculty research includes studies into the role of DNA methylation in the metastatic processes of cancer cells and an examination of Heat Shock genes and their role in cell division. In recent years students have actively participated in these research projects as well as others including the study of prions in yeast cells, the use of DNA analysis in forensics, and the creation of transgenic plants using genes for bioluminescence from bacteria, to name a few.
Students find research opportunities during the semester as one of their regularly scheduled courses, during the Saint Mary’s January term as a stand alone course, and during the summer, either as part of our in-house summer research program or as a type of internship at another university/biotech company.