To gain a profound understanding of how living things function, grow and reproduce we must refine our focus to the molecular level. Studying Molecular Biology at Royal Holloway, University of London will give you an insight into the molecular mechanisms that control all life processes on Earth.
This flexible programme focusses on the co-ordinated expression and interaction of genes and their products, before giving you the chance to tailor your studies in years 2 and 3 with a selection of optional modules including Evolution, Developmental Biology, Climate Change and Cell and Molecular Neuroscience.
You’ll study at our state-of-the-art School of Biological Sciences, where a recent £16 million investment has helped to provide specialist equipment for mass spectrometry, bioinformatics and gene and protein sequencing. Gain laboratory experience across the three years, joining our renowned research culture in year three as you complete your individual research project alongside our expert academics. The School of Biological Sciences was ranked 25th in the UK for influential research output by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014.
Develop your interest in Molecular Biology and you’ll graduate with a range of transferrable skills that will make you an attractive prospect to employers in a variety of fields. School of Biological Sciences graduates have gone on to find careers in fields including forensic medicine, medical research and pharmaceuticals, and Molecular Biology will give you a robust skillset to take into your chosen career.
- Develop practical laboratory and data handling skills.
- Examine the life cycle of flowering plants, their evolution, developmental and functional biology.
- Learn how biological and ecological principles can help develop sustainable solutions to 21st-century problems.
- Join a close-knit and supportive learning community with a high staff-to-student ratio.
Core ModulesYear 1
Becoming a Bioscientist
In this module you will develop an understanding of key scientific concepts and effective science communication. You will learn how to process and critique different forms of information, and how to communicate science to both scientific and non-scientific audiences using diverse media, forms and methods. You will also examine ethical issues surrounding research and intervention.
Cell Biology and Evolution
In this module you will develop an understanding of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell biology and the key functions of these structures and organelles. You will look at the origin of life and the principles of natural selection and evolution. You will also learn the practical technique involved in microscopy, including fixation techniques for the analysis of cell ultrastructure and aseptic techniques for bacterial culture.
In this module you will develop an understanding of genes and their behaviour in individuals organisms, in populations, and at the molecular level within the cell. You will look cellular genetics with respect to mitosis, meiosis, inheritance and recombination, and consider the fundamentals of gene expression, its control, and DNA replication. You will examine genome organisation, transcription, and translation, and gain practical experience of using techniques in microscopy, including slide preparation for the observation of chromosomes.
Chemistry of Life
In this module you will develop an understanding of the fundamental chemistry of life processes and laboratory experiments. You will look at the basics of biological chemistry, including the chemical bonding and reactivity of important biomolecules, intermolecular forces, 3D structure and isomerism. You will analyse equilibria in acid/base biochemistry and solve related problems. You will also learn the basic biochemical lab techniques and carry out consequent data analysis.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the basics of biochemistry. You will look at some of the key techniques for biochemical analysis, including spectroscopy, and the fundamentals of protein structure. You will examine structure / function relationships in myoglobin, hemoglobin and the serine proteases, and learn to solve biochemical kinetic problems using the Michaelis-Menten equation. You will also consider how to solve thermodynamic problems, including equilibrium constants.
Cell Dynamics: Division and Movement
In this module you will develop an understanding of the key methologies used in cell biology, becoming familar with modern microscopy techniques and live cell imaging studies. You will look at the basic mechanisms that regulate the cell cycle and the regulatory mechanisms for DNA synthesis and mitosis. You will examine mitochondria and chlorpolast organelle functions, and the principles of polar bodies and asymmetric cell division. You will assess the basic mechanisms underlying cell shape and mobility, and consider the evolutionary constrains of cellular functions.
Applications of Molecular Genetics in Biology
In this module you will develop an understanding of the molecular tools and techniques currently available to investigate the genetic diversity of a range of organisms. You will examine how genetically modified organisms can be produced via a number of methodologies, and will consider their application in areas such as crop improvement, pest management, and vaccine development. You will also look at how molecular genetics has improved our understanding of human inherited diseases and led to the development of human gene therapies.
Protein Structure and Function
In this module you will develop an understanding of protein structure, protein folding in vivo, and the principles of protein engineering and protein-protein interaction. You will look at methods for the separation, purification, detection, and structural analysis of proteins, gaining practical experience in using techniques such as SDS-PAGE and Western blotting. You will also examine mechanisms of enzyme catalysis and regulation.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the chemical structure of DNA and RNA, and how genes are organised and expressed. You will look at gene characterisation using recombinant DNA technology, and will consider DNA as a template for RNA synthesis. You will also become familiar with molecular biology techniques that are widely used in the life sciences, including the preparation and handling of purified DNA, restriction enzyme digestions, and polymerase chain reaction.
Individual Research Project
You will carry out an individual laboratory or theoretical investigation, supervised by an appropriate member of staff, who will provide guidance throughout. You will apply the knowledge and skills learned throughout your studies, and learn to organise data in a logical, presentable and persuasive way. You will produce a report, around 8,000 words in length, and will deliver an oral presentation with a summary of your findings.
Cell and Molecular Biology of Cancer
In this module you will develop an understanding of advanced concepts and recent advances in fundamentally important areas of cell biology relevant to cancer, including developments in microscopy, imaging and molecular genetic techniques. You will look at current concepts in molecular cell biology, such as cell-cell adhesion and signaling, stem cells in development and in diseases, and cancer and the role of the cytoskeleton. You will examine topics in cancer biology including oncogenes, tumour suppressor genes and caretaker genes, and the signaling and regulatory pathways these are involved in. You will also examine the diagnosis and rationale of cancer therapies.
Functional Genomics, Proteomics and Bioformatics
In this module you will develop an understanding of the structure-function relationships in proteins, and how new technologies are being used to exploit protein sequence data. You will look at how genome-wide analyses can be used to examine regulation in biological systems, and consider modes of specific recognition in mediating protein interactions.
Optional ModulesYear 1
Protein Biochemistry and Enzymology
In this module you will develop an understanding of the main concepts of classic protein biochemistry including protein purification, enzyme kinetics, and enzyme structure. You will look at the basic principles behind a number of protein purification techniques, and consider basic enzyme kinetics using the Michaelis-Menten equation and derived methods to analyse kinetic data. You will examine the underlying biochemistry of a variety of analytical methods and their applications in research and diagnostics, gaining practical experience in performing some of these methods in laboratory practicals. You will also analyse the concept of biochemical buffers and learn how to make these from stock solutions.
Introductory Animal Physiology
In this module you will develop an understanding of the fundamental physiological systems that are required to maintain complex multi-cellular animals, specifically those involved in communication, transport and homeostasis. You will look at how systems and specialised organs have evolved and interact to obtain oxygen from the environment whilst maintaining optimal internal conditions for cellular function. You will consider the mechanisms, organisation, functions and integration of the nervous and endocrine systems to show how neural (somatic and autonomic) and hormonal signalling enable an animal to sense and respond both consciously (e.g. movement) and unconsciously (e.g. internal homeostasis). You will also examine the evolution of the closed circulatory system, separated into pulmonary and systemic circuits and driven by a four-chambered heart, essential for the body-wide distribution of nutrients, oxygen and hormones, and for the removal of waste products.
In this module you will develop an understanding of specific human physiological systems in health and disease. You will look at how these systems function under normal conditions and consider the consequences of dysfunction and/or dysregulation resulting from genetic or acquired disease. You will consider how special sensory systems convert light, sound and position/movement into electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain and how our ability to sense the environment can be disrupted by diseased or damaged receptors. You will examine skeletal muscle function, how movement is controlled and sensed by the somatic nervous system and the causes and consequences of selected muscle and nerve disorders. You will also cover aspects of basic haematology, including the fluid and formed elements of blood and their roles in inflammation and the control of bleeding following vessel damage.
Green World: Plant Evolution, Form and Function
In this module you will develop an understanding of the diversity and structure plants and fungi and how these can be used to reconstruct evolutionary history. You will look at the structure of the main Kingdoms of eukaryotes, examining their diversity and the relationships between the life-cycles of higher plants and fungi, and their single-cell or water-tied ancestors. You will consider the form, development and function, including photosynthesis, of higher plants, and then explore the relevance of plants to humans. You will gain practical experience in handling and observing preserved and live specimens, preparation of taxonomic keys, drawing, data analysis, interpretation and presentation.
Biology in a Changing World
In this module you will develop an understanding of how biological and ecological principles can help develop sustainable solutions to the problems encountered in the 21st Century. You will look at how ecological principles can be used to tackle conservation challenges and consider the importance of ongoing management of ecosystems which have been altered by humans. You will gain practical experience in using ecological sampling techniques and learn how to apply and interpret elementary statistical tests.
In this module you will develop an understanding of some of the key concepts in microbiology, including the study of bacteria, viruses, and eukaryotic microbes. You will look at how microbes are distinguished and classified, and discuss bacterial growth and differentiation. You will examine the importance of microorganisms in health and disease, including human welfare issues such as opportunistic infections and the role of microorganisms in cancer.
Plant Life: From Genes to Environment
In this module you will develop an understanding of the life cycle of flowering plants, considering their evolution, developmental and functional biology. You will examine the role and biology of meristems in the structure and building of a plant muticellular body, and the role and mode of action of plant hormones in coordinating development. You will also consider a range of environmental and biotic factors affecting plants, including light, time of day, temperature, drought, and other organisms, and how plants respond to the challenges they pose.
Essential Human Physiology in Health and Disease
In this module you will develop an understanding of the function and integration of selected human physiological systems in normal physiology and disease. You will look at endocrine control in the human body, specifically the role of the hypothalamo-pituitary axis and the function and regulation of thyroid hormones. You will examine the organisation and integration of the nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory and systems and the principles of whole muscle physiology. You will also consider the composition and functions of blood and haemostasis, and the analysis and interpretation of physiological experiments.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the processes that lead from a fertilised egg into complex tissues and organisms with well-defined body plans. You will look at the basic cellular and genetic mechanisms that regulate development, and the evolutionary outcomes of developmental changes. You will examine model organisms in which both embryological and genetic approaches have been developed, and will explore axis establishment, segmentation, cellular differentiation, organ development, and the widely-shared signalling pathways that underpin them.
In this module you will develop an understanding of how organisms have changed through time. You will look at the historical origins of the modern concept of evolution, examining the evidence for it and the processes that have shaped faunas and floras. You will consider Darwinism and its development, the origin and maintenance of variation, and adaptation and selection. You will analyse how evolution can be studied using phylogenetic methods and the mechanisms of speciation, with a focus on human evolution.
Bioenergetics and Metabolism
In this module you will develop an understanding of the major pathways for electron transfer and energy conversion in living systems. You will look at how energy is utilised in biosynthesis, and the role of enzymes, coenzymes and metabolic intermediates. You will examine the priniciple of flux control and metabolic regulation and the mechanisms that balance the activity of key pathways to physiological demands. You will also consider the main features of human energy metabolism and their relationship to obesity and diabetes, and analyse the importance of protein glycosylation and how protein glycans are biosynthesised.
Molecular and Cellular Immunology
In this module you will develop an understanding of the mammalian immune systems at cellular and molecular levels, and how this is determined by antibody structure and function, the complement system, and the impact of immunoglobulin genetics. You will look at the role of T cells as effectors and regulators of immune responses, allergic reactions, transplant rejection, and the HIV virus and the pathogenesis of AIDS on the immune system. You will examine antipody antigen reaction techniques used in immunology, and consider the isolation and purification of lymphocytes, their morphology and abundance.
Neuronal and Cellular Signalling
In this module you will develop an understanding of the structure of the nervous system, including the main types of cells and the transmission of signals within neuronal networks. You will look at the process of synaptic transmission, including both electrical and chemical synapses. You will examine the different types of neurotransmitters and receptors and the mechanism of intracellular signaling, considering the role of second messenger signaling pathways. You will also enhance your practical skills, such as isolating and characterising synaptosomes and using these for the study of transmitter metabolism.
Pharmacology and Toxicology
In this module you will develop an understanding of drug-receptor interactions and the methods used to characterise drug action. You will look at the factors that influence drug action and drug toxicity within the body, examining the concepts of drug absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion. You will consider the pharmacology of a number of major drug classes, including antihypertensives, antidepressants, analgesics, general and local anaesthetics and drugs affecting the autonomic system.
Plant Biochemistry and Biosynthesis
In this module you will develop an understanding of the key energy-generating reaction of photosynthesis and how storage polysaccharides are produced by plants from carbon dioxide and water. You will look at the key biochemical aspects of the nitrogen biosphere cycle and how plants assimilate nitrogen and produce aromatic amino acids. You will examine molecular targets for herbicides in plants, approaches to weed control management, and sustainable nitrogen for agriculture. You will consider the major groups of secondary plant compounds and their roles in plant function and chemical ecology. You will also integrate knowledge of biochemistry, metabolic pathways, chemical ecology, modern agriculture and the use of plant-derived compounds in the pharmaceutical industry, and analyse their importance for strategies to address global challenges.
Special Study - Dissertation
You will carry out a literature research project on a biological or biochemical topic of your choice, producing a written report around 7,500 words in length. You will critically evaluate recent scientific publications on your chosen topic, highlighting how data has been used to generate and test hypotheses.
Biology of Parasitic Diseases
In this module you will develop an understanding of the principles of parasitism and the protective mechanisms used by immuno-competent hosts to limit the spread of infection. You will look at the biological strategies used by a range of unicellular and multicellular organisms to colonise host causing disease in human and non-human hosts. You will consider studies on the pathology and the cellular immunity elicited by various parasites, and the immune evasion strategies used by widely distributed human parasites to protect themselves from immune attack. You will also address the principles and prospects of anti-parasitic vaccination in the 21st Century.
Climate Change - Plants and the Environment
In this module you will develop an understanding of the effects of climate change on the interaction between plants and the environment. You will critically evaluate the application of novel technologies to crop improvement and assess the relationship between growth and responses to the environment. You will also consider issues surrounding human uses of plants and conservation.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the variety of rhythms in nature and their importance. You will look at the rhythms throughout biology, in microbes, plants and animals, and consider the impact of the internal circadian clock on behaviour, physiology, environmental responses and wider implications for fitness. You will examine how the clock interacts with environmental signals, how the clock can be set to the right time, how the clock can moderate environmental responses, and how the clock can allow measurement of day length for the timing of annual events.
Industrial Biotechnology in a Changing World
In this module you will develop an understanding of the role of the biotechnology sector in the search for a green economy and a sustainable future. You will look at the exploitation of plants and microorganisms for the production of bioenergy and biomass, and as pharmaceuticals and naturaceuticals. You will examine the concepts and measurements of food security, and consider the evolving debate on the use of genetically modified organisms.
In this module you will develop an understanding of human metabolism, physiology and immunology. You will look at the main features of human energy metabolism, including nutrition, the importance of vitamins, and the biochemical basis of specific disorders, such as diabetes, hypercholesterolemia and obesity. You will consider the disorders associated with lipid dysfunction and examine other metabolic disorders such as hypercholesterolemia.
Molecular and Medical Microbiology
In this module you will develop an understanding of medical microbiology with particular reference to bacteria and pathogenic eukaryotes. You will look at pathogen mechanisms for infection, the host immune response to infection, vaccine development, gastrointestinal health and disease, resistance to antibiotics, anti-parasite chemotherapy and the genetic and biochemical validation of parasite drug targets in the kinetoplastidae. You will examine the role of probiotics in health and disease, and consider a range of microbiological and molecular diagnostics techniques.
Seed Biology: From Molecular & Conservation Biology to Industrial Applications
In this module you will develop an understanding of the importance of seeds and fruits for food chain security, the seed industry, and ecosystem conservation. You will look at the principles and importance of seed banking and the seed conservation work at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank to mitigate against climate change. You will examine the developmental and biochemical processes of seed storage reserve deposition, germination and reserve mobilisation, including the environmental control of seed germination. You will analyse the key advantages of the seed habit, considering the morphological diversity of modern seeds and fruits which have evolved.
Application of Advanced Molecular Biology Methods
In this module you will develop an understanding of the transformation technologies used in the study of gene expression, gene therapy and biotechnological applications of genetically modified organisms. You will consider how molecular biology research is employed in a range of systems, including animal and plant models, as well as the simple social amoeba, Dictyostelium. You will also analyse the use of molecular genetics in the study of circadian rhythms.
Human Embryology and Endocrinology
In this module you will develop an understanding of human embryos and the development and function of particular endocrine systems. You will look at embryonic development, including gastrulation and specification of the axes, and the initial steps in the formation and patterning of the brain and spinal cord. You will examine craniofacial development, pharyngeal gland formation and sex determination, analysing the cellular and molecular processes involved in detail. You will also consider some of the birth defects that can arise, the genetic and environmental insults that cause them, and investigations which inform their prevention.
Cell and Molecular Neuroscience
In this module you will develop an understanding of the basic principles of brain development and the molecular mechanisms which regulate this, including the synthesis, storage and release of neurotransmitters. You will look at the molecular basis of learning and memory, considering brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and bipolar disorder. You will assess the problem of brain damage in preterm babies and infants, and the methods available to help provide neuroprotection, with insights from a clinical practitioner.
Molecular Basis of Inherited Disease
In this module you will develop an understanding of the theory, technology, and clinical practice of human molecular genetics. You will look at a range of genetic disorders and inborn errors of metabolism such as muscular dystrophies, cystic fibrosis, haemophilia, lysosomal storage disorders, haemoglobinopathies, mitochondrial respiratory chain disorders, neurotransmitter synthesis disorders, lipoprotein diseases and primary immunodeficiencies. You will examine the concepts and significance of human inherited disease gene mapping and consider the importance of the human genome project.
Teaching & assessment
Each year you will take modules worth a total of 120 credits, with most individual modules worth 15 credits. In your final year, your Individual Research Project is worth 30 credits.
The first year is formative, while outcomes of your second and third year contribute one third and two-thirds of your final degree classification respectively.
You will attend a mixture of lectures, seminars and small-group tutorials, with class sizes that range from 6 to 180 students. Practical classes are a major part of all first and second year modules, and include experiments that are integral to the subject, helping to familarise you with the material and augment your understanding of key topics. These are either laboratory-based or field-based with laboratory follow-up. In your third year, you will complete an individual research project supervised by one of our academics, and you may have the opportunity to contribute towards a published scientific paper. The individual research project is assessed on the basis of a written report, supervisor assessment, and an oral presentation.
During your first and second years, you will complete essays and reports, and sit written examinations. In your third year, assignments include a range of activities, such as preparation of posters, oral presentations, creation of leaflets and podcasts, coursework essays, mock research grant applications and scientific news-and-views articles, as well as analysis of data from online repositories in mini-research projects.
Required subjects: Biology and Chemistry, plus a Pass in the practical element of both subjects. At least five GCSEs at grade A*-C or 9-4 including English and Mathematics.
A Levels: ABB-BBB
Where an applicant is taking the EPQ alongside A - levels, the EPQ will be taken into consideration and result in lower A-level grades being required. Socio - economic factors which may have impacted an applicant's education will be taken into consideration and alternative offers may be made to these applicants. Read more about what we look for here.
Other UK Qualifications
International & EU requirements
English language requirements
We accept the following internationally-recognised English language qualifications:
- Pearson Test of English
- Cambridge ESOL
Your future career
Molecular Biochemistry at Royal Holloway, University of London gives you a range of skills and experience needed to make you an employable candidate in a range of different fields. Your laboratory experience and independent research coupled with the diverse skillset you’ll develop make you an attractive prospect to employers in sectors from medicine to food production and environmental management.
Our close-knit graduate network means that alumni visit regularly to share their knowledge and experience with current students, helping you to prepare for a career in your chosen field. 91% of School of Biological Sciences graduates go on to work or further education within six months of graduating.
Fees & funding
Home and EU students tuition fee per year*: £9250
International students tuition fee per year**: £18900
Other essential costs***: £396
*The tuition fee for UK and EU undergraduates is controlled by Government regulations, and for students starting a degree in the academic year 2018/19 will be £9,250 for that year, and is shown for reference purposes only. The tuition fee for UK and EU undergraduates has not yet been confirmed for students starting a degree in the academic year 2019/20.
**Fees for international students starting a degree at Royal Holloway in the academic year 2019/20 have not yet been set, and those for 2018/19 are shown for reference purposes only. Fees for international students may increase year-on-year in line with the rate of inflation. The policy at Royal Holloway is that any increases in fees will not exceed 5% for continuing students. For further information see fees and funding and our terms and conditions.
***These estimated costs relate to studying this particular degree programme at Royal Holloway. Costs, such as accommodation, food, books and other learning materials and printing etc., have not been included.