Life Science Electives

Required Life Sciences Electives (3 credits/9 units)

Students with previous experience in graduate-level Life Sciences courses may convert this elective to an Open Elective with the approval of the Program Directors.

NMR in Biomedical Sciences


Biological Imaging and Fluorescence Spectroscopy

This course covers principles and applications of optical methods in the study of structure and function in biological systems. Topics to be covered include: absorption and fluorescence spectroscopy; interaction of light with biological molecules, cells, and systems; design of fluorescent probes and optical biosensor molecules; genetically expressible optical probes; photochemistry; optics and image formation; transmitted-light and fluorescence microscope systems; laser-based systems; scanning microscopes; electronic detectors and cameras: image processing; multi-mode imaging systems; microscopy of living cells; and the optical detection of membrane potential, molecular assembly, transcription, enzyme activity, and the action of molecular motors. This course is particularly aimed at students in science and engineering interested in gaining in-depth knowledge of modern light microscopy.

Advanced Genetics

This course considers selected current topics in genetics at an advanced level. The emphasis is on classroom discussion of research papers, supplemented with individual and group exercises. Topics change yearly. Recent topics have included genome imprinting in mammals, chromatin boundaries and long distance gene regulation, learning and memory in Drosophila,and the kinetochore complex in yeast. Must obtain a minimum grade of B in 03-330 to take this course.

Advanced Biochemistry

This is a special topics course in which selected topics in biochemistry will be analyzed in depth with emphasis on class discussion of papers from the recent research literature. Topics change yearly. Recent topics have included single molecule analysis of catalysis and conformational changes; intrinsically disordered proteins; cooperative interactions of aspartate transcarbamoylase; and the mechanism of ribosomal protein synthesis.

Advanced Cell Biology

This course covers fourteen topics in which significant recent advances or controversies have been reported. For each topic there is a background lecture by the instructor, student presentations of the relevant primary research articles and a general class discussion. Example topics are: extracellular matrix control of normal and cancer cell cycles, force generating mechanisms in trans-membrane protein translocation, signal transduction control of cell motility, and a molecular mechanism for membrane fusion.

Molecular Biology

The structure and expression of eukaryotic genes are discussed, focusing on model systems from a variety of organisms including yeast, flies, worms, mice, humans, and plants. Topics discussed include (1) genomics,proteomics, and functional proteomics and (2) control of gene expression at the level of transcription of mRNA from DNA, splicing of pre-mRNA, export of spliced mRNA from the nucleus to the cytoplasm, and translation of mRNA.

Advanced Developmental Biology

This course examines current topics in developmental biology at an advanced level. The course is team-taught by faculty from Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh Department of Biological Sciences, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. Each year several areas of current research are examined. Previous topics have included pattern formation, molecular signaling pathways, morphogen gradients, cell movements, and stem cells. Emphasis is on critical reading of original research papers and classroom discussion, with supporting lectures by faculty.

Physical Virology

Like all branches of physical science, physical virology encompasses a search for simplifying generalities. However, viruses display a kaleidoscopic diversity that imposes limits on any generalization and provides tremendous opportunity for discovery.

The course covers latest methods in biological physics as well as fundamentals in physics of DNA, protein self-assembly and membranes using viruses as a physical object. This course also provides introductory level biochemistry and molecular biology lectures so that students with any background can participate in the course. Being an interdisciplinary and up-to-date research field involving fundamental theory and numerous applications, the emerging field of physical virology is aimed to attract students from any of the natural science disciplines (physics, chemistry and biology).

Advanced Physiology

This course is an introduction to human physiology and includes units on all major organ systems. Particular emphasis is given to the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, excretory, and endocrine systems. Modules on molecular physiology tissue engineering and physiological modeling are also included. Due to the close interrelationship between structure and function in biological systems, each functional topic will be introduced through a brief exploration of anatomical structure. Basic physical laws and principles will be explored as they relate to physiologic function.

Mechanisms of Cellular Communication, Structure and Morphology

This course will survey and discuss current literature pertaining to advances in understanding how cells regulate complex behaviors such as migration, cell polarity, protein/membrane trafficking, cell and tissue morphology, and cell proliferation/survival and how lesions in these processes result in human disease


This course examines the electrical properties of nerve cells and the mechanisms by which nerve cells communicate. The following topics will be covered: electrical principles used by nerve cells, the basis of the resting potential, the function of voltage-dependent ionic channels, the mechanisms by which action potentials are generated, neurotransmitter receptor function, and the physiology of fast synaptic communication.

Advanced Topics in Cell Biology


Molecular Evolution

Sequencing technology is continually progressing, and genome sequences from different species and populations continue to become available in increasing numbers. Such data allows
questions about molecular function and evolution to be addressed in new and exciting ways. This course introduces students to the evolutionary analysis of DNA and amino acid sequences. Lectures on theory will be accompanied by practical instruction in the use of contemporary computational methods and software. Topics include: population genetics of selection and mutation, models of sequence evolution, phylogenetic models, analysis of multiple sequence alignments for rates and patterns of divergence, inference of natural selection, and coevolution between proteins. Emphasis is placed on quantitative modeling and the biological principles underlying observed patterns of molecular evolution. Interested students should have a basic grasp of molecular biology and calculus.

This is the first of three courses, which together constitute the common core of the first year of the molecular biophysics graduate program. Here the emphasis is on the structural foundations, especially that of proteins and nucleic acids. Fundamental results are covered together with experimental techniques (X-ray, diffraction, NMR, EM/cryoEM, AFM, CD/ORD, Raman and fluorescence spectroscopy), as well as structural systematics and informatics.

Course is concerned primarily with the structure and functions of proteins and nucleic acids. These are large polymers where structure and function are determined by the sequence of monomeric units. Topics will include the physical and chemical properties of the monomer units (amino acids/nucleotides); the determination of the linear sequence of these units; the size, shape and general properties of the biopolymers in aqueous systems; and the relation between structure and function, particularly in transport (hemoglobin) and in catalysis (enzymes).