Catalog 2012 - 2013

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Laszlo Prokai, PhD, DSc, Graduate Advisor
Research and Education 466
Phone: 817-735-2206
E-mail: laszlo.prokai@unthsc.edu

Graduate Faculty: Awasthi, Basu, BorejdoDoryK. GryczynskiLacko, Nair, SharmaProkai, and Vishwanatha


The Biochemistry and Molecular Biology graduate program offers comprehensive training in two (2) major areas: (1) the structural and molecular basis of biological processes; and (2) modern fluorescence spectroscopy/microscopy and proteomic analyses and their application to biophysical and biological processes. Both MS and PhD degree programs are designed to accommodate a broad spectrum of student and faculty interests and require a significant contribution to knowledge through original research. Research training is conducted in modern laboratories and is complemented by informative didactic course work, seminars and journal clubs. The Department of Molecular Biology & Immunology houses facilities featuring state-of-the art Center for Commercialization of Fluorescence Technologies, Advanced Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Laboratory and Flow Cytometry and Laser Capture Microdissection Core Facility.

Students with a broad range of training are accommodated by faculty research interests that include clinical studies in human subjects to biophysical analyses of muscle contraction. Within the setting of the Health Science Center, specific research interests of the faculty address a wide range of pathological states including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, ophthalmic diseases, aging and Alzheimer's disease. Specific projects include the role of oxidative stress and posttranslational protein modification in health and disease, disorders of lipid metabolism in atherosclerosis, the role of lipid peroxidation in ocular and neurodegenerative diseases and cancer, chemical carcinogenesis, development of brain- and eye-targeted therapy, liposomal targeted drug delivery, the use of synthetic lipoproteins in drug delivery and nanoparticle-mediated delivery of anticancer therapeutics, animal models of human cancers and drug resistance during chemotherapy. Under these research topics special cellular/tissue processes, including  signal transduction, tumor invasion, muscle contraction, enzymology, transcription regulation, and epigenetic modifications, angiogenesis, endocytosis, apoptosis, cell proliferation and differentiation, drug metabolism, drug resistance, drug delivery, posttranslational protein modifications (protein phosphorylation-dephosphorylation, histone modifications, carbonylation and nitration), protein structure and function, protein-ligand and protein-protein interactions, and lipoprotein metabolism are investigated. Research projects employ state-of-the-art molecular and biochemical techniques utilizing proteomics, mass spectrometry, advanced fluorescence spectroscopy and optical imaging.

Students with undergraduate science majors in biology, chemistry and biochemistry that fulfill prerequisite courses of organic and inorganic chemistry will be considered for admission. The graduate curriculum consists of a multidisciplinary core that surveys the fundamental principles of biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, microbiology, immunology, pharmacology and physiology. This is followed by advanced courses that focus on the most recent progress in specific areas of biochemistry and molecular biology to provide the student with a contemporary perspective in the fields of greatest current interest.

Most students complete the MS requirements in two years, while PhD requirements are encouraged to be completed within five years. Detailed policies and procedures are available from the graduate advisor and supplied to the student during orientation.

Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination ensures that a doctoral student has sufficient mastery of fundamental principles of biochemistry and molecular biology to be successful as a PhD candidate and, subsequently, as an independent researcher. A list of major topics to be examined will be distributed to the student after the completion of the first year. The student is expected to become knowledgeable in each of these topics through coursework, individual reading, or discussions with faculty members.

The qualifying examination is administered by biochemistry and molecular biology faculty, excluding for the student's major professor, and in an oral examination format. The student is required to answer a given set of questions within two hours. During the examination, the questioning/discussions may be expanded to address related topics in the field of biochemistry and molecular biology. The student must demonstrate an ability to discuss and apply concepts of biochemistry and molecular biology in a broader context.

  1. The qualifying examination is generally scheduled in the Summer semester of the student's first year of graduate school.
  2. It consists of an oral examination attended by all Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Graduate Faculty members and the university member assigned to the student's committee. The graduate advisor will serve as examination coordinator. The examination takes approximately two hours.
  3. The student will be expected to have a sound knowledge of major principles of biochemistry and molecular biology as taught in the core curriculum; Integrative Biomedical Sciences I: Principles of Biochemistry (BMSC 6301) and Integrative Biomedical Sciences II: Molecular Cell Biology (BMSC 6302). As an additional guide, students are provided a list of topics in which they are to prove proficiency at the beginning of the Summer semester of first year of graduate study.
  4. The examination will consist of 12 questions organized into four (4) sections written by members of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Graduate Faculty. Students will be required to answer 6 questions in total, one (1) from sections I and IV, and two (2) each from sections II & III:
    1. Protein/Enzymes (2 questions; answer 1)
    2. Metabolism (4 questions; answer 2)
    3. Principles of Molecular Biology (4 questions; answer 2)
    4. Biochemical and Biophysical Analyses (2 questions; answer 1)
  5. The student will be given the question set thirty (30) minutes prior to the oral examination, from which he/she will prepare answers for 6 questions. The student may answer the questions in any order. Any faculty member can ask questions pertaining to the subject matter of each question during the examination. The questions should be answerable in approximately 15 min so that the students can be tested in all of the defined areas.
  6. On completion of the examination, the faculty will vote on a pass/fail grade for the student. If a student does not pass, the faculty will inform the student of specific areas of weakness in writing.
  7. If necessary, a student will be allowed to retake the oral examination once; but this must be completed before the end of the following semester. Failure on the second attempt will result in dismissal from the doctoral program, although the student may be permitted to pursue a Master of Science degree.
  8. Following designations could be used to indicate the performance of the student:
    • Qualifying examination passed
    • Qualifying examination passed with distinction
    • Qualifying examination failed
  9. It is the responsibility of the student to obtain signatures from the examination committee chair, graduate advisor, university member and department chair on completion of the examination. The appropriate form may be obtained from the graduate school website.

Grant Writing (BMSC 6310)

This stage of the advancement to doctoral candidacy will evaluate a student's aptitude for independent thought and scientific writing. In this course, a student is required to prepare an NIH-style R21 research proposal (based on current guidelines) and defend it before an examination committee. The proposal should be based on an original hypothesis that may be related to the dissertation research and should describe specific experimental approaches to address this hypothesis. The student will present this proposal in the form of a public seminar and then privately address specific questions of an examination committee. The examination committee will consist of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology graduate faculty (at least three of the five members), associate faculty and adjunct faculty. The graduate advisor will serve as coordinator and will meet with enrolled students at the beginning of the semester to review guidelines and answer relevant procedural questions. Upon successful completion of this course, the student is advanced to candidacy.

This page last modified February 13, 2012