Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Housed within the Division of Biochemistry, Biophysics, & Structural Biology, the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB) emphasis is dedicated to the mechanistic understanding, at the molecular level, of essential processes for the life of the cell. To this end, the BMB emphasis uses rigorous and reductionist approaches to describe living systems in chemical and physical terms. Unique to BMB is the combination of powerful molecular biological methodologies (e.g. cloning, gene splicing and gene expression), with biochemical and biophysical assays, as well as structural biology strategies (e.g. X-ray crystallography, 2-D NMR, cryo-electron microscopy) for dissecting structure and function of macromolecules. Berkeley hosts unique, state-of-the-art facilities to carry out research using these methodologies.

The ability to understand complex biological processes by characterizing the activity of the molecular machinery governing processes such as DNA replication, transcription, transposition, recombination, protein synthesis, protein degradation and RNA processing, have greatly advanced our understanding of the living cell. Furthermore, these approaches and new knowledge are playing a major role in unraveling many complex biological processes at the organismal level, such as development, differentiation, mutagenesis, gene regulation, pathogenesis, oncogenesis, and aging.

Through the major you will learn not only how the molecules of life work in the healthy cells and organisms, but also how disruption of their function leads to disease. Furthermore, the identification and characterization of the molecular culprits for human illness is an essential step towards treatment by pharmacological agents that target these molecules to alter their activity. An exciting and invigorating aspect of these types of studies is that they can be done by individual students, armed with keen interest and curiosity.

Students in the BMB emphasis are strongly encouraged to complement their academic coursework with research experience. See below for more information. 


Track 1-Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

(shows as 966: MO&CEL BIO P1 I, EM 1 on some official University documents)

6 upper-division course requirements

  • MCB C100A Biophysical Chemistry (F, Sp; 4 units)
  • MCB 100B General Biochemistry (Sp; 4 units)
  • MCB 110 Molecular Biology: Macromolecular Synthesis and Cellular Function (Fa, Sp; 4 units)
  • MCB C110L Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Lab (Fa, Sp; 4 units)
  • Choose one of the following two courses:
    • MCB 140 General Genetics (F, Sp; 4 units)
    • MCB C148 Microbial Genomics & Genetics (Sp; 4 units)
  • Elective from BMB electives list

See the letter to all BMB students that discusses the sequence of courses for this major.

Track 2-Biological Chemistry*

**Chemistry 1A and 1B is required for BMB, Track 2. Chem 4A/4B are also acceptable for this requirement.

7 upper-division course requirements, with Chem 112A/112B as pre-requisites to the major

  • Chem 112A Organic Chemistry (F, 5 units)
  • Chem 112B Organic Chemistry (Sp, 5 units)
  • MCB C100A Biophysical Chemistry (F, Sp; 4 units)
  • Chem 130B Biophysical Chemistry (Sp, 3 units)
  • Chem 135 Chemical Biology (F, Sp, 3 units)
  • Choose one of the following:
    • MCB 130A Cell & Systems Biology (Sp,; 4 units)
    • MCB 140 General Genetics (F, Sp; 4 units)
  • MCB C110L Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Lab (Fa, Sp; 4 units)

*Note: A simultaneous degree in Chemical Biology and Biological Chemistry is not be permitted by the Department of Molecular & Cell Biology. 

Approved Electives List for BMB

Molecular and Cell Biology

  • Any 3 or 4 unit upper-division MCB course EXCEPT divisional lab courses (130L, 133L, 140L, 150L, 160L, 163L), or 102, 104, 130, 180, 190, H196, 198, 199.


  • 113 Advanced Organic Chemistry (F; 3 units)
  • 115 Organic Chemistry - Advanced Lab Methods (Sp; 4 units)
  • 130B Biophysical Chemistry (Sp; 3 units)

Environmental Science, Policy & Management

  • C148 Pesticide Chemistry and Toxicology (Sp; 3 units)


  • 110 Linear Algebra (F, Sp, Su; 4 units)


  • C160 Introduction to Neurobiology (F, Sp; 4 units)

Nutritional Sciences & Toxicology

  • C114 Pesticide Chemistry and Toxicology (Sp; 3 units)


  • 112 Introduction to Statistical & Thermal Physics (F, Sp; 4 units)
  • 177 Principles of Molecular Biophysics (Sp; 3 units)

Plant & Microbial Biology

  • C112 General Microbiology (F; 4 units)
  • C114 Comparative Virology (Sp; 4 units)
  • C116 Microbial Diversity (F; 3 units)
  • C134 Chromosome Biology / Cytogenetics (Sp; 3 units)
  • 135 Physiology & Biochemistry of Plants (F; 3 units)
  • 150 Plant and Microbial Biology (F; 3 units)
  • 160 Plant Molecular Genetics (Sp; 3 units)

Public Health

  • 141 Intro to Bio-Statistics (Su; 5 units)
  • 142 Introduction to Probability & Statistics in Biology & Public Health (F,Sp; 4 units) - For students declaring Fa16 and beyond, this course is no longer accepted to meet the elective requirement.


  • 131A Statistical Inference for Life Scientists (F, Sp; 4 units) - For students declaring Fa16 and beyond, this course is no longer accepted to meet the elective requirement.

***APPROVED ELECTIVES But NOT Regularly Offered

  • BioEng C141 Stats for Bioinformatics
  • Math 127 Mathematicall & Computational Methods in Molecular Biology
  • Physics 132 Contemporary Physics
  • Stat C141 Stats for Bioinformatics


Why should an undergraduate engage in a research project in biochemistry, molecular biology and/or structural biology? The answer is that these disciplines, like any other scientific subjects, are a way to figure things out by applying the precepts, principles and tools of the scientific method (in all of its guises and manifestations) to questions about our natural / physical world.

As Benjamin Franklin so wisely said, "Natural philosophy [what 'science' was called in his day] is as properly an art as painting, navigation or architecture. If a man would become a painter, navigator, or architect, it is not enough that he is advised to be one, that he is convinced by the arguments of his advisor that it would be for his advantage to be one, and that he resolves to be one; but, he must also be taught the principles of the art, be shown all the methods of working, and how to acquire the habits of using properly all the instruments. And thus, regularly and gradually, he arrives by practice at some perfection in the art." 

So, the only way for a student to determine if a professional life in biochemistry, molecular biology and/or structural biology or an allied discipline is really for him/her is to "get his/her hands dirty" at the lab bench. But, more than that…  There is also the excitement and joy of discovery  —a student gets to explore problems at the boundaries of our knowledge that no one else has explored before.  In addition, from the experience of doing hands-on research, a student learns the values of tenacity, problem solving, and being careful and critical about the details to ensure reproducibility. 

Moreover, because science is a way to figure things out by asking and answering open-ended questions, by determining how to make sense of seemingly disconnected pieces of information, and by making observations or acquiring results that were not necessarily predictable, the experience of doing research helps a student deal with similar issues that they may encounter in other aspects of his/her life. 

Hence, every student should be advised to take the plunge and find an opportunity to engage in a research project of interest to him/her, regardless of whether it is in a laboratory doing basic research, a laboratory doing applied research, or an internship in a research unit of a commercial enterprise or a health-related facility. 

The faculty have established an ethos in the BBS Division of MCB that strongly encourages the participation of undergraduates in their scholarly research, and recognizes and rewards the faculty for doing so.