Molecular biologists work with biological organisms at the subcellular level.

Cells are considered by many to be the building blocks of life. Molecular biology goes one step further, focusing on molecular structures like nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins, which make cell function possible. These all belong to a category known as macromolecules, which are the primary focus of molecular biology. Molecular biologists also deal with DNA and RNA, which contain genetic information; all of these components contribute to molecular activity and can reveal vital information about cells, systems, or entire organisms.

While all the sciences have some degree of crossover with one another, molecular biology requires expertise in a number of adjacent fields. In particular, molecular biologists must have a solid grasp of genetics, since their work often involves DNA sequencing or cloning; biochemistry is essential to understanding molecular bonds, and cell biology provides helpful context for interactions between smaller structures. There are a number of techniques molecular biologists use to visualize, identify, and modify molecules, such as Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) or blotting.

Work in molecular biology may include...

  • Observing and manipulating molecular activity
  • Separating, isolating, and modifying molecules
  • Determining the function of a specific gene or protein
  • Switching molecular components on and off
  • Analyzing and recording data

Almost all molecular biologists work in lab settings, often in medical or university facilities. Some work for private companies, often research organizations or pharmaceutical developers. The U.S. government employs a large number of molecular biologists in various roles across the board. There is also notable interest in the field from certain companies in biotechnology or manufacturing. Many molecular biologists teach, lecture, or publish, and others contribute their knowledge to industry, marketing, or art.

Studying molecular biology requires extensive coursework in biochemistry and knowledge of genetics. Most students in biology-focused undergraduate programs have the chance to explore these disciplines and develop their lab skills during their education. For graduates with Bachelor's degrees, these experiences are sometimes enough to land them a job in the field. Those who want to improve their odds or further their studies can enroll in graduate programs; obtaining a Master's or PhD in molecular biology can open a lot of doors and provide the opportunity to conduct independent research.

If you prefer to solve problems by starting small, molecular biology might be the field for you.

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