Molecular Genetics and Genomics

Geneticists seek to understand how genes are inherited, modified, expressed and regulated, as well as the genetic basis of human disease. The field of genetics and genomics has been astonishingly successful in deciphering the genetic code and providing us with a clear picture of the nature of the gene, but much remains to be learned about fundamental genetic mechanisms and how specific gene mutations lead to disease. How is it that only the appropriate genes are turned on in a particular cell type? How do cells replicate their genes with such remarkable speed and fidelity? By what processes do genes become altered to drive evolution or cause disease? The possibility of finding answers to such fundamental questions makes genetics and genomics an exciting field of biology.

Laboratories in the Molecular Genetics and Genomics (MGG) program pursue answers to these and other important questions in human studies and using a variety of model organisms including phage and viruses, bacteria, yeast and fungi, nematodes, fruit flies, plants, and mice. Use of such organisms provides opportunities to design and carry out experiments that reveal fundamental biological processes in great detail and that model specific human diseases in simpler model organisms. In addition, they offer the opportunity to apply genetics and genomics to the study of human biology and disease, ensuring translational relevance​. MGG laboratories at Washington University have been at the forefront of human molecular genetics and the Human Genome Project. Students interested in studying fundamental genetic mechanisms, as well as those with a desire to apply this knowledge to human biology, will find many laboratories within the program in which to pursue their doctoral research.

Program of study

Students in the Molecular Genetics & Genomics (MGG) program will typically take six (6) courses during their first year. Students will also participate in three laboratory rotations over the fall and spring semesters of Year 1 prior to selecting a thesis lab.  Students are expected to complete the following coursework during their entire graduate education:

DBBS required courses

Graduate Research Fundamentals
Ethics and Research Science – typically taken in Year 2

Program required courses

Fundamentals in Molecular Cell Biology
Nucleic Acids and Protein Biosynthesis
Advanced Genetics

One (1) advanced elective

Molecular, Cell and Organ Systems
Computational Molecular Biology – may also be taken as alternate required course, subject to Program Directors’ approval
Developmental Biology
Macromolecular Interactions
Molecular Microbiology and Pathogenesis
Immunobiology I
Immunobiology II

One (1) special topics course

Molecular Mechanisms of Disease
Pathobiology of Human Disease States – enrollment limited to students in the Markey Human Pathobiology Interdisciplinary Research Pathway
Special Topics in Microbial Pathogenesis
Chromatin Structure and Gene Expression
Special Topics in Molecular Genetics

Two (2) semesters of Genetics Journal Club
Qualifying exam

In the spring/summer semesters of Year 2, students must pass a Qualifying Exam (QE). Following a successful QE defense, students will identify and finalize their committee and complete their thesis proposal by December 31 of Year 3.

Thesis committee, proposal, and defense

Toward the end of year 1, students will select a thesis advisor and begin their research. All students must pass a qualifying exam, with timing dependent on program, to advance to PhD candidacy. Students next assemble a research advisory committee (thesis committee) of faculty and complete a written and oral thesis proposal to their committee by December 31 of their third year. Students will complete their thesis research, defense, and graduation in Years 3-5, during which time they also participate in advanced courses, workshops, journal clubs, and seminars relevant to their research and to their career development.

Alumni outcomes

MGG graduates pursue a variety of careers. Most program graduates go into academia, but many find paths in industry, government, and other fields, like science communication, law, and business and entrepreneurship.