What is molecular biology?

Article written by CEMP's team

What is molecular biology? What are its main applications today? If you’re looking for answers to these questions, we’ve got you covered: keep reading to find out all the details about this exciting profession.


What is biomolecular medicine? Definition and applications

According to the United States’ National Cancer Institute, molecular biology is a ‘branch of medicine that develops methods of diagnosis and treatment of disease by understanding the functioning of genes, proteins, and other cellular molecules.’

Thus, molecular biology has a large field of practical applications. This includes, for example, the investigation of the mechanisms that lead to the development of diseases such as cancer (where certain genes, molecules or cellular functions stop behaving according to their normal processes), as well as many other pathologies.

Thus, in cancer research, biomolecular medicine presents a prominent role in issues such as:

  • The identification of genetic predispositions to the development of tumors. For example, this is achieved through early detection of certain molecular alterations that correspond to the initial stages of development of certain types of cancer.
  • Identification of physical, chemical or biological agents that can potentially produce oncogenic mutations. In this way, preventive measures could be applied to reduce exposure to these agents.
  • Early and accurate diagnosis of molecular alterations responsible for cancer processes. As such, it’s increasingly feasible to detect symptomatic signs long before the clinical manifestations of the tumor appear.
  • Finally, biomolecular medicine is also used to design more effective treatments against cancer and, of course, minimize their harm as much as possible.

In addition to the oncological field, biomolecular medicine can be applied in the diagnosis and treatment phases of a large number of diseases. Among others, it’s possible to cite here various genetic pathologies, infectious diseases (such as HIV), cardiovascular issues and many of the so-called ‘rare diseases.’


Molecular biology and work: what are the professional opportunities in this field?

The biomolecular medicine career presents a wide range of work opportunities in different areas:

  • From the most practical and functional perspective, all outputs related to work in hospitals and public or private clinics can be mentioned, as well as work within the pharmaceutical industry. Thus, biomolecular medicine presents an enormous potential to improve diagnostic techniques and design new, more effective and less aggressive treatments.
  • On the other hand, all job opportunities related to research should also be mentioned, including those that take place in a university environment as well as in other public or private scientific institutions. Undoubtedly, this represents a very broad field of work, one that allows delving into various aspects that do not always match hospital practices (although they may produce applicable techniques or procedures).


Molecular biology in the academic field: what are the required studies?

In order to work in the field of biomolecular medicine, the most adequate option involves a degree in medicine or biomedical sciences which, later, is complemented through a specialized master’s or postgraduate degree.

With regard to undergraduate studies, recent years have seen a surge in degrees targeting biomedicine or biomedical sciences, which are completing the more classic approach of medicine degrees. As a general rule, these new degrees are completed within four academic years (240 ECTS credits), as opposed to the six years required to obtain a degree in medicine.

In addition to this, it’s also necessary to mention the degrees in biomedical engineering and bioinformatics, which are also closely linked to this professional sector.

The study plan for a typical degree in biomedical sciences includes subjects such as:

  •   Cell biology
  •   Molecular biology
  •   Biochemistry
  •   Anthropology
  •   Integrated Biomedicine
  •   Genetics
  •   Microbiology
  •   Immunology
  •   Cellular and Molecular Pathology
  •   Biostatistics
  •   Bioethics
  •   Physics of Biological Processes
  •   Genetic engineering
  •   Bioinformatics
  •   Cancer biology
  •   Biomedical Analysis Techniques
  •   Pharmacology
  •   Biomolecule Interaction
  •   Toxicology
  •   Epidemiology


Postgraduate studies in molecular biology

Moving on to postgraduate studies, the most common options involve master’s degrees in biomolecular medicine and other similar options, as well as other postgraduate courses that may not be officially designed as master’s degrees.

As a general rule, these studies take a full academic year to complete and have a study load of 60 ECTS credits.

In order to get an idea of the content for these type of studies, here’s a brief review of the study program of our Master’s in Molecular Biology

Module 1: Safety standards in the laboratory

  •   Introduction
  •   Physical risks
  •   Chemical hazards
  •   Biological risks and biosecurity

Module 2: Bioinformatics applied to Molecular Biology

  •   Bioinformatics applied to Molecular and Cellular Biology I
  •   Bioinformatics applied to Molecular and Cellular Biology II

Module 3: Technologies for the analysis and manipulation of proteins

  •   Protein Structure and Function
  •   Importance of receptors and antibodies in molecular biology
  •   Protein quantification
  •   Protein separation and analysis techniques
  •   Bioinformatics applied to the study of swissprot, clustal omega protein expression, and to determine the applicability and suitability of antibodies for biomolecular analysis.

Module 4: Genetics and Molecular Biology

  •   Nucleic acids, replication and transcription
  •   Regulation of gene expression
  •   Epigenetics, and SNPS concepts
  •   Molecular cloning (cellular and acellular), applicability in a molecular biology laboratory
  •   Extraction of tissue or cell samples for genetic analysis (different types of extraction, their advantages and disadvantage, and sample storage techniques)
  •   Bioinformatics applied to the study of gene expression

Module 5: Carbohydrates and Lipids. Advances in biomedicine

  •   Carbohydrates and lipid structures: function, classification and properties
  •   Immune system induction
  •   Advances in lipid functionality (cell proliferation and migration, apoptosis and cell differentiation)
  •   Protein separation and analysis techniques

Module 6: Molecular bases of proliferation, differentiation and cell death

  •   Cell structure and function
  •   Cell molecular biology
  •   Techniques and instruments for the cultivation of cell lines in biomolecular research
  •   Techniques for the study of cell functionality
  •   The microscope in the study of cells

Module 7: Stem Cell Research and Therapies

  •   Introduction to stem cells
  •   Stem cells and proliferation of differentiated cells
  •   Stem cell culture
  •   Advances and limitations in the study and applicability of stem cells

Now that you know the answer to ‘what is molecular biology’ and what the main job opportunities look like in the field, are you interested in improving your training and thus increasing your employment options? You could be part of an exciting field where a hugely fulfilling career might ensue.

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