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Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Program Overview

Biochemistry/molecular biology is a scientific discipline under-going a revolution. Over the last two decades, our understanding of the molecular basis of life has grown at a breathtaking pace. We are unraveling how molecules like DNA and proteins determine how cells function, and how cells affect and control the function of whole organisms. The recent release of the entire human genome sequence has put an enormous database of information at our fingertips. What we will do with this data raises moral and ethical issues that will require thoughtful and well-informed discussion.

At Lewis & Clark College, the interdisciplinary Biochemistry/Molecular Biology Program provides a rigorous foundation of coursework in physics, chemistry, and biology. In addition, students complete work in mathematics to ensure that they develop the quantitative skills necessary to solve real-world problems. In keeping with the liberal arts tradition, we also prepare our students by discussing the ethical issues that emerge from this branch of science, such as questions about genetic engineering, cloning, and gene therapy.

But perhaps what we do best is engage students in the excitement of discovery by involving them, from their earliest years, in the process of doing science—posing hypotheses and designing experiments to test them. This commitment to “teaching what we do” extends into our upperclass courses as well, where the molecular biology lab and the biochemistry lab form a one-year, projects-based lab experience for juniors. As seniors, many biochemistry students pursue collaborative research projects with faculty members. Senior research has been one of our most powerful teaching tools, enabling students to receive one-on-one mentoring in the practice of the discipline and in the process of data analysis and experimental design. Our students often attend professional meetings to present their results, or publish with faculty in professional journals.

A biochemistry/molecular chemistry major can serve as a foundation for a variety of careers. Students who plan to do research and teach at the college or university level enter PhD programs in such areas as biophysics, biochemistry, and cell and molecular biology. Others choose careers in medicine, veterinary work, dentistry, or other health-related fields after further study at the appropriate professional schools. Still others use their undergraduate biochemistry degrees to find jobs in biotechnology, food science, pharmaceuticals, or to pursue opportunities with nonprofit research organizations or government agencies. Whether they continue in science or not, students have found the biochemistry major to be an excellent pathway for developing critical thinking skills, as well as oral and written communication skills.

Biochemistry/molecular biology is a rigorous and quantitative science. Lewis & Clark faculty recommend that students considering the major take at least three years of high school science courses, including chemistry and physics, and four years of mathematics, at least through the level of precalculus.

Examples of published faculty-student research

* Denotes a student coauthor
  • Nathanial K. Ariki, Lisa E. Muñoz, Elizabeth L. Armitage, Francesca R. Goodstein, Kathryn G. George, Vanessa L. Smith, Irina Vetter, Volker Herzig, Glenn F. King, Nikolaus M. Loening, “Characterization of Three Venom Peptides from the Spitting Spider Scytodes thoracica”, PLOS ONE 11(5): e0156291. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0156291 (2016).
  • Barrett, A.* and Hermann, G.J. (2016) Caenorhabditis eleganshomologue of LYST functions in endosome and lysosome-related organelle biogenesis.Traffic 17:515-535.
  • *Hamling KR, *Tobias ZJC, Weissman TA. Mapping the development of cerebellar Purkinje cells in
    zebrafish. Developmental Neurobiology, 2015 Feb 4 doi: 10.1002/dneu.22275

  • Marra MH, *Tobias ZJC, *Cohen HR, Glover G, Weissman TA. In vivo time-lapse imaging in the zebrafish lateral line: A flexible, open-ended research project for an undergraduate neurobiology laboratory course. Journal for Undergraduate Neuroscience Education, 2015 Jul 7;13(3):A215-24. eCollection 2015 Summer.
  • Scalettar, BA, Shaver D.*, Kaech, S. and, Lochner, J.E. (2014) Super-resolution imaging of neuronal dense-core vesicles. J. Vis. Exp. 89, e51394, doi:10.3791/5139.
  • Delahaye, J.L., Foster, O.K.*, Vine, A.*, Saxton, D.S.*, Curtin, T.P.*, Somhegyi, H.*, Salesky, R.*, Hermann, G.J. (2014) C. elegans HOPS and CCZ-1 mediate trafficking to lysosome-related organelles independently of RAB-7 and SAND-1.Mol. Biol. Cell 25:1073-1096.
  • Nikolaus M. Loening, Zachary N. Wilson,* Pamela A. Zobel-Thropp, and Greta J. Binford, “Solution Structures of Two Homologous Venom Peptides From Sicarius dolichocephalus”, PLOS ONE 8(1): e54401. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054401 (2013).
  • Jason R. Merwin, Lucien Bogar*, Sarah Poggi*, Rebecca M. Fitch*, Arlen W. Johnson and Deborah E. Lycan (2014) Genetic Analysis of the Ribosome Biogenesis Factor Ltv1 of Saccharomyces cerevisiae.  Genetics 198: 1071-1085.
  • Scalettar, BA, Jacobs C.*, Fulwiler  A.*, Prahl L.*, Simon, A.*, Hilken  L.*, and, Lochner, J.E. (2012) Hindered submicron mobility and long-term storage of presynaptic dense-core granules revealed by single-particle tracking Dev. Neurobio. 672:1181-1195. 
  • Fassio, C. A.*, Schofield, B. J., Seiser, R. M., Johnson, A. W. and Lycan, D. E. (2010) Dominant Mutations in the late 40S biogenesis factor Ltv1 Affect Cytoplasmic maturation of the small ribosomal subunit in S. cerevisiae. Genetics 185:199-209.
  • Levitte, S.*, Salesky, R.*, King, B.*, Coe Smith, S.*, Depper, M.*, Cole, M.*, Hermann, G.J., (2010) A C. elegans model of orotic aciduria reveals enlarged lysosome-related organelles in embryos lacking umps-1 function. FEBS J. 277:1420-1439.
  • Rabbitts, B.M.*, Kokes, M.*, Miller, N.E.*, Kramer, M.*, Lawrenson, A.L., Levitte, S.*, Kremer, S.*, Kwan, E.*, Weis, A.M. and Hermann, G.J. (2008) glo-3, a novel Caenorhabditis elegans gene, is required for lysosome-related organelle biogenesis. Genetics 180:857-871.
  • Lochner J.E., Spangler E.*, Chavarha M.*, Jacobs C.*, McAllister K.*, Schuttner L.C.*, Scalettar, B,A. (2008) Efficient copackaging and cotransport yields postsynaptic colocalization of neuromodulators associated with synaptic plasticity. Dev. Neurobio. 68: 1243-1256.
  • van Roon A.M., Loening N.M., Obayashi E., Yang J.C., Newman A.J, Hernández H, Nagai K, Neuhaus D. (2008) Solution structure of the U2 snRNP protein Rds3p reveals a knotted zinc-finger motif. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 105: 9621-9626.
  • Cernak P., Madix R.A., Kuo L.Y., Lehman N. (2008) Accommodation of Ca(II) ions for catalytic activity by a group I ribozyme. J. Inorg. Biochem. 102:1495-506.
  • Schroeder, L.K.*, Kremer, S.*, Kramer, M.J*, Currie, E.*, Kwan, E.*, Watts, J.L., Lawrenson, A.L., Hermann, G.J. (2007) Function of the Caenorhabditis elegans ABC transporter PGP-2 in the biogenesis of a lysosome-related fat storage organelle. Mol. Biol. Cell 18:995-1008.
  • Currie, E.*, King, B.*, Lawrenson, A.L., Schroeder, L.K., Kershner, A.M.*, Hermann, G.J. (2007) Role of the C. elegans multidrug resistance gene, mrp-4, in gut granule differentiation. Genetics 177:1569-1582.
  • Seiser R.M., Sundberg A.*, Wollam B.J.*, Zobel-Thropp P., Baldwin K.*, Spector M.D.* and Lycan D.E. (2006) Ltv1 is required for efficient nuclear export of the ribosomal small subunit in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Genetics 174, 679-691.
  • Lochner J.E., Honigman L.S.*, Grant W. C.*, Gessford S.K.*, Hansen AB*, Silverman M.A., and Scalettar BA. (2006) Activity-dependent release of tissue plasminogen activator from the dendritic spines of hippocampal neurons revealed by live-cell imaging. J. of Neurobio., 66:564-577.

Examples of positions held and graduate programs attended by our recent biochemistry and molecular biology graduates

  • PhD candidate in molecular biology, University of California Berkeley
  • Research assistant, Department of Immunology and Biochemistry, University of Washington School of Medicine
  • Medical student, Stanford Medical School
  • Public health fellowship, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • PhD candidate in chemical biology, University of Michigan
  • Law student, Columbia University
  • Assistant language teacher, Japan Exchange and Teaching Program
  • Physician assistant program student, Oregon Health Sciences University
  • PhD candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology, Cornell University
  • D.V.M. candidate, School of Veterinary Medicine, Oregon State University
  • Laboratory assistant, Boulder Community Hospital
  • PhD candidate in molecular and cellular biology, John Hopkins University


Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

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