Implementing the recommended curriculum in biochemistry and molecular biology at a regional comprehensive university through a biology/chemistry double major: The minnesota state university moorhead experience*


  • *

    This program is funded in part by grants from the National Science Foundation, DUE-9750937, DUE-0088654, and DBI-0115927. Additional funding came from an MSUM Strategic Goals Initiative Grant.


Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM) is a regional comprehensive university that is part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system. The current student population consists of ∼7,600 full- and part-time students who are enrolled in one of 135 majors that lead to baccalaureate degrees. MSUM is committed to excellence in science teaching and research for undergraduates. It is an institutional member of the Council on Undergraduate Research and has three faculty members participating in Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) Faculty for the 21st Century. Fourteen years ago, MSUM renewed its effort to have faculty participate in active research. All science faculty members hired since that time have been required to establish research programs. The primary purpose for the faculty engaging in ongoing research projects is to involve undergraduates in a meaningful research experience, thus training these students to become scientists.

The Biochemistry and Biotechnology Emphasis at Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM)11 is a truly interdisciplinary program. Completion of the emphasis leads to a B.A. degree with a double major in Biology and Chemistry. The program is currently in its sixth year and was designed to graduate 15–18 students per year. During the 2003–04 academic year, 14 students were enrolled in the senior Biotechniques sequence. There were a number of major influences that contributed to the design of this emphasis. They include: 1) the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB)-recommended curriculum that was put in place in 1992, 2) the lecture-lean, laboratory-rich philosophy of Project Kaleidoscope [1], 3) the advocacy of the central nature of research in an undergraduate science education promoted by the Council on Undergraduate Research [2], and 4) the National Science Foundation goal for the inclusion of research and research-based activities in the undergraduate curriculum [3].

As part of this mini-series on the new curriculum recommended by the Education and Professional Development Committee of the ASBMB [4] and in light of the publication of BIO2010 [5], this article presents an overview of the Biochemistry and Biotechnology Emphasis at MSUM.

The Biochemistry and Biotechnology Emphasis is designed to meet the needs of two principle groups of undergraduate students. The first group is students that plan to continue their education in graduate and professional school. The second group is students that plan to enter the workforce in the biotechnology industry. During the design process for this emphasis, it was our desire to provide students with a substantial theoretical and practical background in both biology and chemistry, not to have students obtain a degree in one department and add a year or two of courses in the other discipline.

Students in the Biochemistry and Biotechnology Emphasis take seven semester courses in biology (Table I) and seven semester courses in chemistry (Table II) prior to their senior year. As seniors, students enroll in a cross-listed Biology/Chemistry two-semester sequence Biotechniques I and II for a total of 10 semester credits (Table III). Students in this emphasis complete 81–84 credits in required courses for the double major while completing a minimum 120 credits to graduate. Students are required to take a minimum of 1 year of course work in mathematics and 1 year of course work in physics. Students can complete the degree with one semester of calculus, one semester of statistics, and two semesters of trigonometry-based physics (Table III). Through advising, we recommend that student take two semester of calculus, one semester of statistics, and two semesters of calculus-based physics. All students at MSUM are required to complete a 45-credit liberal studies program. Students in the emphasis can receive a degree in 120 credits because the related field courses required for the emphasis also count toward the liberal studies requirement. Table IV shows a typical 4-year schedule required to complete the Biochemistry and Biotechnology Emphasis.

The design process for the emphasis included a review and restructuring of many of the courses involved. The faculty paid particular attention to which topics were covered in which courses to minimize overlap. Additionally, we dedicated ourselves to incorporating research into the curriculum both in the teaching laboratories and significantly expanding undergraduate research outside of coursework. The goal of the program has always been to train students to become scientists and not just science majors.

This training process begins with the first course for freshman, Cell Biology. In the Cell Biology Laboratory, one-half of the laboratory time is spent doing investigative laboratories. The first simple investigation is contained in a single 3-h laboratory block and is used to introduce students to experimental design, data collection, data analysis, and data presentation. The second and third investigations occur over 3-week blocks. During the first week of each block, students learn to measure a simple cellular process, ask a simple scientific question, form a hypothesis, and design an experiment to test their hypothesis. In the second week of the block, students run their experiments with appropriate controls and replication. In the third week of the block, students return to the laboratory with a poster prepared and give a 5–10 min presentation to the class.

The incorporation of inquiry-based and investigative laboratories continues throughout the 4 years of the program. As part of the Biochemistry and Biotechnology Emphasis, a number of the courses have been identified to help students gain research skills and learn to work independently. In the sophomore year, students in physiology courses and molecular biology spend the first half of the laboratory section of the course learning techniques. For the second half of the semester, the students choose a research-based project and under the guidance of the instructors run a series of experiments related to previously published scientific data. In the junior year, the students in the biochemistry courses work on two research-based projects. During the fall semester, students transform bacteria, express, isolate, and purify green fluorescent protein. During the second semester, students work with the enzyme malate dehydrogenase and carry out a site-directed mutagenesis project where each group of students uses molecular modeling and extensive literature searches to choose which mutation they feel will alter enzyme function. The students then express, purify, and characterize both the normal and mutant protein to test their hypothesis. The goal is for students to obtain a solid theoretical background in both biology and chemistry along with the laboratory experience needed to work independently. Table V provides an overview of the laboratory and related skills the students obtain during their required coursework.

The senior biotechniques sequence is team taught by the five faculty members that are actively involved in the Biochemistry and Biotechnology Emphasis. Biotechniques I is designed to have students gain experience in advanced laboratory techniques and begin a yearlong research experience. Class is scheduled for 9 h per week with 6 h dedicated to techniques blocks and 3 h dedicated to research time with a faculty mentor. During the semester, students participate in three technique blocks as well as working on their research projects. In Biotechniques II, students continue their research projects, participate in two more technique blocks, and one seminar block. The current techniques blocks are: 1) fluorescence microscopy and digital imaging, 2) eukaryotic transfection and analysis of expressed protein, 3) advanced protein expression, purification, and bioanalytical techniques, 4) RT-PCR and gene cloning, and 5) DNA sequencing and basic bioinformatics. The seminar block includes preparing a PowerPoint presentation of a journal article, and upon completion of the research project each group presents their findings at the MSUM Academic Conference in poster format. Students are also encouraged to submit an abstract and present their work at the Annual Meeting of the Minnesota Academy of Science and/or the regional Beta Beta Beta Conference.

We believe that the emphasis fits the curriculum recommended by the ASBMB very well. Additionally, it addresses many of the concerns and incorporates many of the recommendations of the BIO2010 report. In terms of the chemistry requirements, all for the core topics listed in the ASBMB recommendation are covered in the seven semesters of chemistry required of the students in this emphasis. In terms of the biology curriculum for our emphasis, it substantially surpasses the biology content recommended by ASBMB and provides a substantially broader, interdisciplinary science base. Not only are the topics in cellular and molecular biology covered but also they are expanded to include aspects of developmental biology, organismal biology, microbiology, and physiology. The most frequent comment on the curriculum for the Biochemistry and Biotechnology Emphasis is the lack of a physical chemistry course. Our reasoning was that the majority of the topics that occur in a traditional physical chemistry course are covered in the chemistry courses we require for the emphasis. Additionally, all of the topics recommended by the ASBMB are covered in our existing courses, though we admit that the level of coverage of topics such as thermodynamics would be enhanced if physical chemistry were required. Students do have the option of taking physical chemistry as an elective during their senior year. This choice would require students to complete at least two of their liberal studies courses during the summer in order to graduate in 4 years.

We believe that the greatest benefit of the program to students is the quantity and quality of the laboratory experience they receive. Table V provides a listing of the laboratory experiences and related skills students receive in the Biochemistry and Biotechnology Emphasis. In addition to the research experience in course work, all students are encouraged to participate in research outside their course work. All of the students in the Biochemistry and Biotechnology Emphasis do a 1-year research project during their senior year. On average, however, the students that graduate with this emphasis average between 2 and 3 years of research experience as undergraduates. The emphasis on undergraduate research is a common aspect of all programs in the Biology and Chemistry Departments at MSUM. In fact, during the past 5 years, 152 different biology students have participated in research that resulted in 184 scientific publications, posters, or oral presentations at local, state, and national meetings. Undergraduate research is the centerpiece of natural science education at MSUM.

In closing, the Biochemistry and Biotechnology Emphasis at MSUM is a very strong program for preparing Biology and Chemistry students. In the 6 years of the program, 47 students have participated in the senior biotechniques sequence. Forty of the 47 students participated in research outside of their coursework either on campus or by participating in summer research programs around the country. Upon graduation, 20 students went directly into the workforce, 16 entered graduate school, and 11 entered professional school. The feedback we have received from former students, employers, and graduate and professional schools has been extremely positive. Additionally, the program has been recognized at MSUM with an Academic Affairs Excellence Award for Service to Students in 2001 and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) recognized the program in 2003 with an Excellence Award for Curriculum Planning. This is the only academic excellence award given annually by MnSCU.

Table Table I. Required biology curriculum for the Biochemistry and Biotechnology Emphasisa
Year enrolledCourse numberTitleCoverageLecture/laboratory hours
  • a

    a Covers all aspects of ASBMB-recommended curriculum and extends the coverage in numerous areas.

1stBiol 111Cell BiologyCell Structure and Function, Organelles, Intro to Metabolism, Intro to Classic and Molecular Genetics, Biomolecule Structure and Function, Biological Catalysts, Introduction to Signal Transduction3/3
1st or 2ndBiol 341GeneticsClassical Genetics, DNA/RNA Structure, DNA Replication, Transcription and Translation, Intro to Recombinant DNA3/3
3rdBiol 350MicrobiologyProkaryotic Life Cycles, Metabolism, Gene Expression, Transcription and Translation3/3
2nd or 3rdBiol 385Molecular BiologyDNA/RNA Structure, Genomics, Regulation of Gene Expression, Replication, Transcription and Translation, Genetic Engineering Techniques, Bioinformatics, Bioethics3/3
1stBiol 303General ZoologyClassification, Basic Structure Function Relationships, Modes of Homeostasis3/3
2ndBiol 360Cell & Vertebrate Systems PhysiologyHomeostasis from Cell to Organismal Level, Control Mechanisms, Comparative Systems Physiology3/3
2ndBiol 305General BotanyClassification, Basic Structure Function Relationships3/3
2ndBiol 347Plant PhysiologyHomeostasis from Cell to Organismal Level, Systems Physiology2/3
3rd or 4thBiol 365Developmental BiologyAnimal Developmental Processes, Gene Expression in Development3/3
4thBiol 430ImmunobiologyCell and Molecular Basis of Immunity, Function of the Immune System5/0
Table Table II. Required chemistry curriculum for the Biochemistry and Biotechnology Emphasisa
Year enrolledCourse numberTitleCoverageLecture/laboratory hours
  • a

    a Covers all aspects of the ASBMB-recommended curriculum.

1stChem 150General Chemistry IAtomic Structure, Molecular Structure, Molecular Structure, Periodicity, Spectroscopy, Thermodynamics, Kinetics, Bonding, Reactions and Stoichiometry, Acid/Bases, Descriptive Inorganic, Transition Metals and Redox3/3
1stChem 160General Chemistry II 3/3
2ndChem 350Organic Chemistry IStructure, Bonding, Nomeclature, Functional Groups, Instrumental Structure Intermediates, Molecular Recognition, Organometallics, Combinatorial Chemistry, Bioorganics3/3
2ndChem 360Organic Chemistry II 3/3
2nd or 3rdChem 380Analytical ChemistryThermodynamics, Spectroscopy, Molecular Spectroscopy, Solutions and Equilibria3/3
3rdChem 400Biochemistry IBiomolecule Structure/Function, Protein Structure/Function, Biological Catalysts, Enzyme Kinetics, Allosteric Interactions, Bioenergetics and Equilibria, Metabolism and Regulation, Signal Transduction, Supramolecular Structures, Physical Biochemistry, Thermodynamics, Reversible and Irreversible Inhibitors, Ligand Binding, Molecular Modeling3/3
3rdChem 410Biochemistry II 3/3
Table Table III. Required specialty and related field curriculum for the Biochemistry and Biotechnology Emphasisa
Year enrolledCourse numberTitleCoverageLecture/laboratory hours
  • a

    a The ASBMB-recommended curriculum recommendation for 1 year of calculus and 1 year of calculus-based physics is the recommended option in this emphasis.

4thBiol/Chem 475Biotechniques IProtein Expression, Purification, Folding, Functional Analysis, Chromotography, HPLC, FPLC3/6
4thBiol/Chem 476Biotechniques IICell Culture, Genetic Engineering Techniques, Eukaryotic Transfection, Assessment of Gene Expression3/6
   Light Microscopy, Fluorescence Microscopy, Digital Imaging, Quantitative Microscopy 
   DNA/RNA Analysis, DNA Sequencing, Genetic Engineering Techniques, Genomics, Proteomics, Bioinformatics 
   RNA isolation and analysis, Genetic Engineering Techniques, PCR, RT-PCR, Gene Cloning 
2nd or 3rdPhys 160College Physics ITrigonometry-based Physics3/3
2nd or 3rdPhys 170College Physics IITrigonometry-based Physics3/3
2nd or 3rdPhys 200General Physics ICalculus-based Physics3/4
2nd or 3rdPhys 201General Physics IICalculus-based Physics3/4
1st or 2ndMath 234Intro to Probability and Statistics 4/0
1st or 2ndMath 261Calculus I 5/0
1st or 2ndMath 261Calculus I 5/0
1st or 2ndMath 22Calculus II 5/0
Table Table IV. Typical 4-year schedule for students in Biochemistry and Biotechnology Emphasis
Year 1Cell BiologyGeneral Zoology
 General Chemistry IGeneral Chemistry II
 English IEnglish I
Year 2Cell and Vertebrate Systems PhysiologyMolecular Biology
 GeneticsOrganic Chemistry II
 Organic Chemistry IAnalytical Chemistry
 Liberal Studies CourseLiberal Studies Course
Year 3MicrobiologyDevelopmental Biology
 Biochemistry IBiochemistry II
 Physics IPhysics II
 Liberal Studies CourseLiberal Studies Course
Year 4Biotechniques IBiotechniques II
 Liberal Studies CoursesLiberal Studies Courses
Table Table V. Laboratory skills acquired by Biochemistry and Biotechnology Emphasis students
TitleLaboratory SkillsRelated Skills
Cell BiologyIntro to Experimental Design, Light Microscopy, Visible SpectroscopyData Analysis
  Oral, Written Verbal Presentations
  Intro to Quantitative Techniques
GeneticsDrosphila Cross, Mendelian GeneticsBasic Experimental Design, Data Analysis
MicrobiologyAseptic TechniqueData Analysis and Presentation
 Bacterial Culture/Growth CurvesUse of Computer Databases
Molecular BiologyDNA Isolation, Gel Electrophoresis, Genetic Engineering Techniques, RT-PCR, Mutagenesis, cDNA LibraryUse of Computer Databases
  Computer Use Information and Research
Cell & Vertebrate Systems PhysiologyPAGE, Western Blot, Light and Fluorescence Microscopy, Organelle IsolationComputer Use Information and Research, Experimental Design
  Research Project
Plant PhysiologyDNA Isolation, UV/Visible Spectroscopy, Protein Expression IR SpectroscopyComputer Use Information and Research, Experimental Design
  Research Project
Developmental BiologyProtein Expression in Development, PAGE/Western Blot, Light and Fluorescence MicroscopyComputer Use Information and Research, Experimental Design, Research Project
General Chemistry IQuantitative Analysis, Acid-Base Titration, Equilibrium, UV/Visible Spectroscopy, Introduction to NMRInquiry-based Discovery
General Chemistry II  
Organic Chemistry IOrganic Synthesis, NMR, Spectroscopy, Organometallic Synthesis and Structure Analysis, Molecular ReactionsComputer Use Information and Research
Organic Chemistry II  
Analytical ChemistryFluorescence Spectroscopy, Instrumental Analysis, Chromatography, TLC, LC, HPLC, GC Mass SpecComputer Use Information and Research, Quantitative Analysis
Biochemistry ICarbohydrate Metabolism, Protein Expression and Purification (SEC, IEC, Affinity), Enzymatic Analysis, ImmunochemistryComputer Use Information and Research, Critical Assessment of Published Data
Biochemistry II  
Biotechniques IAdvanced Protein Expression and Purification, FPLC, Isoelectric Focusing, Proteomics, Genetic Engineering Techniques, DNA Sequencing, Fluorescence Microscopy, Capillary Electrophoresis, Mass SpectroscopyAbility to Design Follow-up Experiments, Critical Assessment of Published Data, Use of Computer Databases, Quantitative Data and Statistics, Experimental Design
Biotechniques II  


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    The abbreviations used are: MSUM, Minnesota State University Moorhead; MnSCU, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities; ASBMB, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.