Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology

Director: Daniel M. Vernon
Sara M. Belchik
Douglas H. Juers
James E. Russo

BBMB Website »

The program in biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology (BBMB) offers interdisciplinary courses and a major at the interface of the physical and biological sciences. The curriculum focuses on the understanding of biological processes at the molecular level and seeks to prepare students to enter the rapidly developing fields of biotechnology, biomedicine, and structural biology.

Distribution: Courses completed in BBMB apply to the science distribution area.

Learning Goals: Upon graduation, a student will be able to:

  • Major-Specific Areas of Knowledge
    • Integrate concepts from biology, chemistry, and physics in order to understand the structure and function of biological molecules and the interactions of these molecules in cells and organisms.
  • Accessing Academic Community/Resources
    • Demonstrate the ability to read and critique the molecular life science literature.
  • Communication
    • Effectively communicate science orally and in writing.
  • Research Experience
    • Work collaboratively and individually to perform experiments to address a research question in the molecular life sciences.

The BBMB major: Biology 111, 205; either Chemistry 125, 135, 126, 136, or Chemistry 140; 245, 246, 251, 252; Physics 155 or 165, 156 or 166; Mathematics 225; BBMB 324, 325, 326, 334, 335, 336, 400, and three credits of 490 or 498; at least seven additional credits taken from biology, chemistry, mathematics, or physics courses numbered 200 and above and approved by the BBMB faculty. Note: A maximum of two credits from Chemistry 401 and 402 may be applied towards these seven additional credits requirement. The P-D-F grade option is not allowed for any BBMB, biology, chemistry, or physics course that applies to the BBMB major.

In the senior year, all BBMB majors must take a senior comprehensive exam containing both an oral and written component. The written component consists of the GRE exam in biochemistry, cell and molecular biology. A score in the 20th percentile or higher is required to pass. The oral exam consists of a one-hour comprehensive question exam with two or more participating faculty.

Honors in the major: All students majoring in BBMB are required to write a thesis and to register for BBMB 490. Students do not apply for admission to candidacy for honors. Students who write a thesis graded A- by the BBMB program faculty, who pass the Senior Comprehensive Examination with distinction, and who attain a Cumulative GPA of 3.300 and a major GPA of 3.500, may be granted Honors in Major Study by the BBMB program faculty. The BBMB program chair will notify the Registrar of those students attaining Honors in Major Study not later than the beginning of the third week of April. Two copies of the Honors Theses must be submitted to Penrose Library no later than Reading Day.

The following courses may apply toward the required seven additional credits for the major:

Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology 430 Infectious Diseases
Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology 481/482  Special Projects
Biology 228 Biostatistics                                      

Biology 259 Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy
Biology 278 Marine Biology
Biology 279 Marine Biology Lab     
Biology 303 Cell Biology                  
Biology 304 Cell Biology Laboratory                           
Biology 305 Cellular Physiology and Signaling
Biology 306 Cellular Physiology and Signaling Lab               
Biology 310 Physiology                                       
Biology 319 Developmental Biology  Seminar
Biology 320 Neurobiology                                  
Biology 323 Neurophysiology                             
Biology 328 Evolutionary Developmental Biology                        
Biology 329 Developmental Biology                 
Biology 330 Human Physiology    

Biology 339 Microbiology and Immunology                    
Biology 342 Gene Discovery and Functional Genomics       

Biology 350 Evolutionary Biology                       
Biology 353 Plant Physiology                             
Biology 405 Bioethics
Biology 472 ST: Symbiosis                                
Chemistry 320 Instrumental Methods of Analysis                          
Chemistry 345 Physical Chemistry I: Quantum Chemistry and Spectroscopy
Chemistry 346 Physical Chemistry II: Statistical Thermodynamics, Classical Thermodynamics and Kinetics
Chemistry 360 Inorganic Chemistry
Chemistry 388 Environmental Chemistry and Engineering
Chemistry 401/402 Chemistry Seminar
Chemistry 411 The Organic Chemistry of Drug Design     
Chemistry 425 Computational Biochemistry               
Chemistry 432 Capillary Electrophoresis
Chemistry 447 Physical Organic Chemistry
Chemistry 460 Bioinorganic Chemistry                        
Mathematics 247 Statistics with Applications
Physics 245 Twentieth Century Physics I
Physics 246 Waves, Electronics, and Quantum Mechanics
Physics 255 Twentieth Century Physics Laboratory       
Physics 256 Electronics and Waves Laboratory    
Physics 318 Computational Physics
Physics 325 Electricity and Magnetism
Physics 348 Optics
Physics 357 Thermal Physics 

324 Biophysics
x, 3 Juers

The application of concepts and approaches from physics (e.g. mechanics, thermodynamics and electromagnetism) to deepen understanding of molecular and cell biology. We will focus on simplified models that capture the salient features of biological systems. Example topics include diffusion, hydrodynamics and cellular locomotion, free energy transduction, ligand binding, entropic forces, enzyme kinetics, molecular motors, macromolecular conformation, and signal propagation in neurons. Three one-hour lectures per week; weekly problem sets; exams. Prerequisites: Physics 155 and Mathematics 225. Corequisite: Physics 156.

325 Biochemistry
3, 3 Fall: Belchik; Spring: Rokhsana, Russo

A detailed examination of protein structure and function, focusing on the role of proteins in molecular recognition and catalysis. Topics include: techniques used to characterize proteins; enzyme kinetics and mechanisms; signal transduction across membranes; bioenergetics; catabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates; integration of metabolism and disease. Three lectures per week. Fulfills the Molecular/Cell Biology requirement for the Biology major. Prerequisites: Biology 111, Chemistry 246.

326 Molecular Biology
3, x Vernon

A detailed examination of nucleic acid structure and function, focusing on gene expression and mechanisms of gene regulation. Other topics include molecular biology of viruses, mobile genetic elements, the genetic basis of cancer, and principles of genomics. Three lectures per week. Required for BBMB majors. Fulfills the Molecular/Cell requirement for the Biology major. Prerequisites: Biology 205 and BBMB 325; consent of instructor required for non-BBMB majors.

334 Biophysics Laboratory
x, 1 Juers

Laboratory exercises on a range of biophysical top­ics. Experimental testing of models developed in BBMB 324. Study of macromolecules using techniques that may include absorption spectroscopy, fluorescence spectroscopy, circular dichroism, nmr, crystallization and structure determination via X-ray diffraction. One three- to four- hour laboratory per week. Corequisite: BBMB 324. Open to other students only with consent of instructor.

335 Biochemistry Laboratory
x, 1 Russo

Laboratory exercises in protein biochemistry, which will include biochemical reagent preparation, enzyme isolation and purification, enzyme and protein assays, and gel electrophoresis. One three- to four-hour laboratory per week. Fulfills the Molecular/Cell Biology requirement for the Biology major. Prerequisites: Biology 111 and Chemistry 136 or 140; Corequisite: BBMB 325. Chemistry 240 is strongly recommended. Open to other students only with consent of instructor.

336 Molecular Biology Laboratory
1, x Vernon

Laboratory exercises in nucleic acid biochemistry, including molecular cloning, PCR, and DNA and RNA isolation and analysis techniques. One three-hour laboratory per week. Fulfills the Molecular/Cell Biology requirement for the Biology major. Prerequisite: BBMB 335; Corequisite: BBMB 326; consent required for non-BBMB majors.

400 Senior Seminar
x, 1 Juers and Vernon

The senior seminar will serve as the capstone of the major by providing a forum for all seniors to make a full-length oral presentation. Each student will describe the background, methodologies, and experimental results of the senior research project and respond to questions and critiques of his or her peers. Open to other students with consent of instructors.

430 Current Topics in Biochemistry: Infectious Disease
3, x Russo

The role of infectious disease in human mortality and morbidity. Discussion topics include: epidemiology and etiology of disease, cellular targets of microbial infection, immune responses, design and mechanism of action of antibiotic drugs, drug resistance, the development of vaccines for disease prevention, and the ethical dilemmas and social consequences of infectious disease. Case studies may include polio, influenza, malaria, tuberculosis, Hepatitis B, and HIV. Prerequisite: consent of instructor.

481, 482 Special Projects
1-2, 1-2 Staff

Research projects or independent studies arranged with individual students. The students must consult with a faculty member prior to the semester of the anticipated project to determine if the project is suitable, and the project must be done with the supervision of a Whitman faculty member. Prerequisite: consent of instructor.

490 Senior Research and Thesis
1-3, 1-3 Staff

Each student will collect data and write a thesis on his or her research in accepted scientific style. One or more initial drafts of the thesis will be required before the final version is due in the last week of classes. Each student also will present his/her research results in a public forum, typically BBMB 400 Senior Seminar. May be repeated for a maximum of three credits; a total of three credits are required in the senior year (Fall and/or Spring). Prerequisite: consent of the research adviser.

498 Honors Thesis
3, 3 Staff

Required of senior honors candidates, who will conduct more extensive research than students who take only BBMB 490. Honors students will finish data collection and write a thesis on the research in accepted scientific style. One or more initial drafts of the thesis will be required before the final version is due in the library. Presentation of results in a public forum to the staff and other BBMB majors is required. Credit cannot be earned simultaneously for BBMB 498 and 490. Prerequisites: consent of the research adviser, and admission to honors candidacy.