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About the Molecular Biology Program

We often hear it being said that all life is governed by molecules. Since the discovery of the structure of the DNA molecule by James Watson and Francis Crick in the 1950's, this has proven to be a remarkably accurate statement. This discovery revolutionized the field of biology, as it led to the view that the underlying basis of all biological processes resides within molecules. Hence, a clear understanding of molecular behavior is necessary for comprehension of biological processes, and this has given birth to the field now called Molecular Biology.

Molecular Biology is the study of the chemical nature of biological processes. It is an interdisciplinary field requiring a solid foundation in many areas of biology, chemistry and physics, and has become one of the fastest growing areas in basic scientific research. Instead of simply knowing that a certain disease is caused by malfunctioning of a particular gene, or that one species of corn thrives better under certain conditions while another species requires some other conditions, it attempts to find out why in molecular terms. Knowing these answers help scientists determine more effective ways of treating the disease and better growing conditions for the different species of corn.

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Scientists are now able to manipulate DNA almost at will, by devising methods to cut and splice DNA fragments to produce new DNA molecules (i..e. Recombinant DNA - r DNA). The beauty of these manipulations is that they use the very tools that nature itself has used for thousands of years. Being able to use nature's own tricks has resulted in the era of DNA technology. In 1983, editors of Time magazine referred to DNA technology as "the most awesome skill acquired by man since the splitting of the atom". Many frontiers of DNA technology that were envisioned only a few years ago have now come to fruition.

Animal (even human) genes can be introduced into bacterial cells to produce proteins of interest in large quantities (ex: insulin, human growth hormone); much progress has been achieved in agricultural biotechnology to improve crop yields, and resistance to herbicides. Diagnosis and treatment of human disease by gene therapy processes have been successful, and this is becoming increasingly feasible for more and more diseases, with the exciting information coming out of the Human Genome Project (a project set up for sequencing and mapping of the entire human genome - 3.6 billion base pairs, and expected to be completed in the next 5 or so years).

The molecular biology program at Muskingum College is taught by faculty from the biology and chemistry departments. It is designed to provide the student with a wealth of information about biological processes and interactions at the gene and molecular level through an integration of theory, applications, as well as hands-on experience in fundamental molecular techniques. Research in molecular biology is an important component of the program, as this is the way to gain a true appreciation and excitement for the field. Students entering this program are strongly encouraged to participate in a summer internship, conducting research dealing with a molecular biological problem.

Of course, together with the fascination that has been generated, the rapid strides made in the field have also triggered a certain amount of public concern, confusion and apprehension. Therefore, in studying Molecular Biology, the ethical, social, political and economic issues have to be addressed as well. Discussions of these issues are included in the interdisciplinary Topics in Molecular Biology courses.