Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Los Angeles, CA 90089-9151
FAX: (323) 442-1224
FacultyMichael R. Stallcup, Chair and Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Zoltan A. Tokes, Vice Chair for Doctoral Education and Master of Science Program
Joseph G. Hacia, Vice Chair for Medical Education
Catherine and Joseph Aresty Chair in Urologic Research: Chih-Lin Hsieh
Ralph Edgington Chair in Medicine: Zea Borok
Judy and Larry Freeman Chair in Basic Science Research: Amy S. Lee
H. Leslie Hoffman and Elaine S. Hoffman Chair in Cancer Research: Peter A. Jones
William M. Keck Chair in Biochemistry: Peggy Farnham
J. Harold and Edna L. LaBriola Chair in Genetic Orthopaedic Research: Baruch Frenkel
Rita and Edward Polusky Chair in Basic Cancer Research: Michael Lieber, Ph.D., M.D.
Provost’s Professor of Medicine and Pharmacy: Michael Kahn
Professors: N. Arnheim (Biological Sciences); Z. Borok (Medicine); E. Cadenas (Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology); P.V. Danenberg; Y.A. De Clerck (Medicine); R. Farley (Physiology and Biophysics); P. Farnham; C.L. Hsieh (Urology); D. Johnson; P.A. Jones (Urology); M. Kahn; V.K. Kalra; A.S. Lee; D. Levy; M. Lieber (Pathology); F.S. Markland, Jr.; R.E. Maxson; M.E. Nimni (Pediatrics); P. Patel; D. Polk (Pediatrics); P. Roy-Burman (Pathology); M.R. Stallcup; Z. Tokes; A. Warshel (Chemistry)
Associate Professors: W. An; P. Cannon (Pediatrics); I.S. Haworth (Pharmacy); B. Frenkel (Orthopaedics); J. Hacia; I. Laird‑Offringa (Surgery); P. Laird (Surgery); R. Langen; R.D. Mosteller; S. Reddy; J. Rice; H. Sucov (Cell and Neurobiology)
Assistant Professors: R. Bajpai (Dentistry); A. Kobielak (Otolaryngology); A. Merrill (Dentistry); T. Ulmer; W. Lu; Y. Hong (Surgery)
Assistant Professors of Research: S. Swenson; D. Weisenberger; S. Zhong
The USC Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology prides itself on maintaining a broad-based approach to various aspects of biochemical and molecular biological research. In 2010, the department received more than $10 million in research funding for its primary faculty members.
Altogether, the department numbers 46 primary and joint-appointment faculty members, who conduct research in a variety of areas including: molecular biology and genetics of development and cell differentiation; mammalian and human genetics; DNA methylation, replication, recombination and repair; membrane transport; kinetics and mechanism of enzyme action; protein structure-function interrelationships; carcinogenesis and cancer chemotherapy; and stem-cell biology.
The department also has major research programs in the molecular basis of control and regulation of gene expression, epigenetics, molecular mechanisms of signal processing and transduction, developmental and stem cell biology, detailed analysis of macromolecular structure and function, the biochemistry and molecular biology of the brain, and genetic medicine including gene therapy.
The department’s exceptionally strong research into various aspects of the biochemistry and cell biology of cancer is internationally recognized. Ongoing research programs in this area include mechanism of action of cancer chemotherapeutic agents, tumor cell invasion and metastasis, and cancer cell epigenetics and gene regulation.
Many members of the department are members of the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, USC/Institute for Genetic Medicine (IGM), USC/Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute (ZNI), Broad Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).
The Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center maintains a microchemical core facility that includes capabilities for gas phase protein sequencing, amino acid analysis, peptide synthesis, DNA synthesis and sequencing. The Institute for Genetic Medicine maintains a customized microarray core facility. Other facilities available to support the research of members of the department include mass spectroscopy, transgenic mice, flow-cytometry, biostatistics, microchemical resource for DNA, and protein sequencing and synthesis core facilities.
The primary offices and laboratories of the department are located on the Health Sciences campus.
AdmissionsThe prerequisite for applicants to the graduate program in biochemistry and molecular biology is a bachelor’s degree with an undergraduate major in one of the natural sciences. Undergraduate course work should have included organic chemistry, the physics and mathematics required of a chemistry major and some courses in the biological sciences. A course in general biochemistry is also required, but may be taken during the period of graduate study. Previous course work in physical chemistry is strongly recommended. A minimum GPA of 3.0 in the natural sciences (including mathematics) is normally required.
Applicants must pass satisfactorily the general portions of the Graduate Record Examinations. In addition, the department requires at least three letters of recommendation from faculty members who can evaluate the applicant’s potential for graduate work and independent research.
Faculty members of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology participate in a variety of interdisciplinary Ph.D. programs. Students interested in pursuing a Ph.D. degree in the fields related to biochemistry, molecular and cellular biology, and genetics should apply to USC’s Programs in Biomedical and Biological Sciences (PIBBS). Applications for the Ph.D. Programs in Biomedical and Biological Sciences should be submitted online through the PIBBS Website (www.usc.edu/pibbs).
Applications should be submitted before the application due date specified on the PIBBS Website. Applications for the M.S. program in biochemistry and molecular biology can be obtained from the department at the address listed below. In addition to the university application, a supplemental departmental application must be completed and returned with transcripts, GRE scores and letters of recommendation to: Graduate Admissions Committee, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 1333 San Pablo Street, Los Angeles, CA 90089-9151.
FellowshipsStudents admitted to PIBBS are awarded fellowships which pay for tuition and provide a stipend. No fellowships are available for master’s degree students.
Master of ScienceThe Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology offers a program for the Master of Science degree. The primary objectives of this program are to provide the necessary theoretical preparation for biochemical careers and to expose students to biochemistry and molecular biology related research activities culminating with the Master of Science degree. Goals of the program are to train students in preparation for (1) further doctoral study, (2) advanced biochemical research positions in industry and academia and (3) teaching positions at the community college level.
In general, admission requirements are the same as for the Doctor of Philosophy degree. The prerequisite for applicants to the graduate program in biochemistry is a bachelor’s degree with an undergraduate major in one of the natural sciences. A minimum GPA of 3.0 in the natural sciences (including mathematics) is normally required. Applicants must satisfactorily pass the general and advanced (chemistry, or biology or molecular biology) portions of the Graduate Record Examinations. In addition, the department requires at least three letters of recommendation from faculty members who can evaluate the applicant’s potential for graduate work and independent research. Demonstrated proficiency in the English language is required. Special circumstances may provide consideration for conditional admission.
The master’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology requires 34 units of elective graduate study to be determined by the student’s Advisory Committee. Fourteen or more course units must be taken in biochemistry and molecular biology; eight units may be pursued outside the department. Students interested in the commercial aspects of biotechnology may take courses focusing on business entrepreneurship, finance, management and marketing in the Marshall School of Business. Master’s students have the option of completing a research thesis allowing state-of-the-art laboratory-based investigation or a non-research-based theoretical thesis. Upon approval, a maximum of 10 units of directed research in biochemistry will be applied to the degree. Up to six units of graduate course work taken outside of USC may be applied toward the M.S. degree. Flexibility exists to plan each student’s program to suit individual needs, ambitions and background.
Master of Science, Molecular EpidemiologyA joint program with the Department of Preventive Medicine offers an M.S. degree in Molecular Epidemiology that requires 37 units of graduate study (see here for course requirements). Students must also complete a master’s thesis. Students can register for up to 10 units of master’s research units. Interested students should contact Anne Rice (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Department of Preventive Medicine.
Ph.D. in Genetic, Molecular and Cellular Biology (GMCB) or Ph.D. in Systems Biology and Disease (SYBD)Faculty members in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology participate in the GMCB and SYBD Ph.D. programs. For admission information and degree requirements, see GMCB (here) and SYBD (here).
Doctor of PhilosophyThe Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology offers graduate degree courses directed toward the Ph.D. degree in this discipline. The objective of this program is to prepare students for careers as independent investigators and instructors in biochemistry, molecular biology and related fields.
The program consists of both course work and research and is intended to provide students with a broad conceptual background as well as focused research training. The flexibility of the program is designed to meet the interests of individual students and to prepare them for specialization in any of the major subdivisions of biochemistry.
Course Requirements A total of 60 units of graduate credits is required for the Ph.D., including course work, research and dissertation units. At least 24 of these units must be from courses numbered 500 or higher; at least 12 of these units must be taken in biochemistry, while the remaining 12 units may be taken in various related disciplines. Students are expected to take the three seminar courses and additional courses may be required by the Graduate Advisory Committee or by the student’s guidance committee. Students must complete all courses with a cumulative GPA of not less than 3.0 and must maintain this average in order to remain in the graduate program. Students are expected to spend full time during the academic year and summer on course work or research.
Screening Procedure The department’s Graduate Advisory Committee, consisting of four faculty members, assesses the educational objectives and research interests of each student admitted to the graduate program. The committee then recommends a program of graduate courses and research suited to the individual student. The advisory committee evaluates the student’s performance throughout the first year and must approve the student’s progress prior to his or her selection of a research advisor.
Guidance Committee To assist students in selecting their research advisors, doctoral students rotate through four research laboratories during their first year in the graduate program. By the first summer of graduate study, each student is expected to have selected a research advisor. Shortly afterward the student should form a five-member guidance committee. Members of the committee must include the student’s research advisor, at least three faculty members from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and at least one member from outside the department.
Qualifying Examination Students in the Ph.D. program must pass both the written and oral portions of a comprehensive qualifying examination on the major areas of biochemistry. The written portion consists of a comprehensive examination given annually, which must be passed before the oral portion can be taken. The oral portion must be scheduled within three months of the successful completion of the written examination. The proposition will be focused on the student’s dissertation research and is intended to test the student’s depth and breadth of knowledge in his or her area of research. The student will be asked to prepare a short summary of the dissertation research proposal and submit it within two weeks of the oral defense. The oral examination consists of a defense of both propositions and can include questions dealing with the written examination and other areas of biochemistry. The oral examination will give applicants the opportunity to unravel complex problems and will also test their overall knowledge of biochemistry and molecular biology.
Recommendations for advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree are made on the basis of the successful completion of these requirements and the student’s maintenance of at least a 3.0 GPA. A student who has not been recommended for advancement to candidacy at the end of three years will be terminated unless given permission to write a master’s thesis and terminate graduate work with an M.S. degree.
Dissertation and Oral Defense The student’s dissertation committee consists of the research advisor, one other member from the department and one member from outside the department. The dissertation must represent an original contribution to biochemistry and should indicate the ability of the student to undertake independent investigation. The defense of the dissertation includes the presentation of a seminar that is open to the public.