Molecular Microbiology Program


The Molecular Microbiology Graduate Program emphasizes an integrated approach to the study of prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms. A universal major focus of the research of many faculty members of the Molecular Microbiology Graduate Program is the study of medically relevant bacteria and viruses and the ways these pathogens interact with respective hosts to cause disease. For many research programs, interdisciplinary approaches are employed to analyze various interesting aspects of the biology of these important pathogens. Overall, this Program is dedicated to providing a superior level of training in biomedical research strategies and technologies related to the major principles of molecular microbiology.

The major emphases of studies in the Molecular Microbiology Graduate Program include:

  • Microbial Pathogenesis: Analysis of virulence and colonization factors, bacterial toxins, interactions of pathogens and their products with eukaryotic host cells, contemporary vaccine strategies, bacterial gene regulation, bacterial export and secretion, and genetic regulation of virulence gene expression.
  • Virology: Viral replication and persistence, viral pathogenesis, neurovirology, host resistance to viral infection, viral vaccines, eukaryotic gene regulation, signal transduction pathways, and cellular and molecular mechanisms of human oncogenesis.
  • Cellular and Molecular Immunology: Mechanisms of immune cell activation by microbes and their products, host responses to pathogen infection, role of commensal bacteria in modulation of immune responses and infection, mechanisms of inflammation, tumor immunology, mechanisms of innate immune responses, and functions of T-cell subsets. 

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Special Requirements for Admission

Students wishing to join the Molecular Micro­biology Graduate Program must be enrolled in the Division of Basic Science and be in good standing academically. Students enter the Pro­gram after successfully completing the first-year Core Curriculum and selecting a mentor. Initiation of the student’s dissertation research then com­mences. The faculty offers advanced courses in the areas of medical microbiology and infectious diseases (including immunology), molecular basis of microbial pathogenesis, microbial genetics, virology, viruses in human cancer, cell and molecular immunology, and genetic manip­u­lation of the immune system. Participation in selected Journal Clubs and seminars offered within the Molecular Microbiology Graduate Program provide exposure to additional educational opportunities. The Pro­gram is supported in part by an NIH training grant and the S. Edward Sulkin endowment, which awards up to $1,000 annually to a highly deserv­ing graduate student in the Program.

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All Division of Basic Science students take the Core Curriculum beginning in the fall of the first year of graduate study. Upon officially joining the Molecular Microbiology Graduate Program, stu­dents take the required courses and attend the Microbiology Seminar course (which includes the student Works-In-Progress series and the Depart­ment of Microbiology Seminar Series) and the Journal Club (Contemporary Topics in Micro­biology). Preparation for and completion of the qualifying examination should be done during the spring semester of the second year.

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Advanced Courses

Course requirements and descriptions are listed on the Course Descriptions page.

During the spring of the second year, students are required to pass a two-phase qualifying examination for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. Phase I of the quali­fying exam will consist of a written review of the relevant literature and description of the proposed thesis topic. Phase II consists of a written research proposal and its oral defense. Successful completion of the qualifying examination is required to advance to candidacy for the Ph.D. The goal of the examination is to assess the student’s knowledge of fundamental facts in advanced molecular microbiology and his or her ability to synthesize these facts and apply them to scientific research. It is designed to foster the development of useful skills such as original thinking, critical reading of the literature, logical design of experiments, and focused interpretation of data.

After the student is admitted to candidacy, a Supervisory Committee is appointed with the supervising professor as Chair. This Committee reviews and evaluates the student’s progress according to the Graduate School guidelines and, upon completion of the written dissertation-based original research and the student’s public presentation of the work, participates in the final oral examination of the student.

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