What is Molecular/Cellular Biology?

College and university programs in modern biology may be divided into two categories: organismic biology and molecular/cellular biology. The basic difference between these two categories is their primary level of focus. The multicellular organism is the center of attraction in the former category, whereas the microbiologist or cellular biologist deals with microbes (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) or with activities within cells of multicellular organisms. The common feature of the various types of micro/cellular biologists is that they usually study living systems that can only be seen with a microscope.

Microbial and cellular biologists often combine the fields of microbiology, cell biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, cellular physiology, physics, ecology, and pathology in their day-to-day work or experiments. Some professional microbiologists focus on findings critical to health, agriculture and environmental sciences, while other cellular biologists focus more on questions of how living systems perform these functions of "life."

What Microbiologists or Cellular Biologists Do

In colleges and universities, microbial and cellular biologists may teach courses such as medical microbiology, veterinary microbiology, environmental microbiology, public health microbiology, immunology, virology, mycology, microbial/cellular physiology, molecular genetics (genetic engineering), protozoology, parasitology, food microbiology, industrial microbiology, biotechnology and an extensive list of other courses. In addition, they teach students how to conduct research, and they do research in their individual areas of expertise to expand knowledge and understanding of the evolution and diversity of organisms and how cells perform the necessary biological processes of life.

Many microbiologists and cellular biologists are employed by county, state and federal agencies or in the private sector such as an animal vaccine supply company, a clinical reference laboratory doing tests for physicians and health departments or a pharmaceutical corporation. Many industries require the expertise of microbiologists to ensure the safety of their products, such as the cosmetic industry, food processors and the dairy industry. Today new directions for cellular biologists include the environmental and pollution control companies and the biotechnology industry. Biotech companies use the advances in molecular or cellular biology to improve agricultural crops, develop new tests for disease agents, develop new forms of drugs, or harness microbes to recycle wastes. Many of the biotech companies utilize skills of genetic engineering to accomplish their corporate goals. In all, careers in these fields span the gamut of topics as diverse as the courses listed above that may be taught by a microbial or cellular biologist.

Academic Requirements

Although there are career opportunities for microbial and cellular biologists with the baccalaureate degrees, many professionals hold either a masters degree or a Ph.D. For this reason it is advisable that individuals interested in careers in microbial or cellular biology give careful consideration to graduate study after completion of the bachelor's degree.

At Emporia State, students who plan to become microbial and cellular biologists earn a Bachelor of Science degree in this concentration. The major consists of a minimum of 45 semester hours in biology plus an additional 10-20 semester hours in chemistry. Coursework in physics and computer science is also encouraged. All biology majors complete a common core of 21 semester hours in Principles of Biology, Biology of Plants, Biology of Animals, Microbiology, Genetics, and Ecology. The remaining 24 semester hours are selected from advance courses in microbial and cellular biology.