Complete course information and requirements for the PhD degree in Cellular, Molecular, Developmental Biology and Biophysics can be found on the online academic catalog.


In addition to the general university requirements for an advanced degree, doctoral candidates must meet the following departmental requirements:

  • Four core courses and four 600- and 700-level electives.
  • At least one year of laboratory teaching during the period of graduate residence.
  • A high level of achievement in a comprehensive written proposal and oral examination covering proficiency in the field of the student’s research interest and various areas of biology and related fields.
  • A dissertation based on a program of independent research, a public seminar followed by an oral examination by the thesis committee.

All graduate students are required to complete the four core courses during the first year. In addition, students are required to complete four elective courses before graduation chosen from the list below of 600-level electives and 700-level seminars offered each semester. At least two out of the four courses must be 600-level.


This list of courses is a snapshot of what is typically offered. For complete information including schedules and registration, visit the Johns Hopkins’ Student Information System (SIS). Students may also take courses on other campuses (School of Medicine, School of Public Health) with permission of the director of the graduate program.

All 600-level courses are open to undergraduates with permission.

020.601 Current Research in Bioscience
Instructors: Staff
Fall, 1 credit

020.607 Quantitative Biology Bootcamp
Quantitative and computational methods have become essential to modern biological research. The goal of this course is to provide an introduction to basic skills that will enable students to employ these methods. Students will learn how to work in a command line shell and use software to perform analyses of large biological datasets. Students will learn basic programming using the Python language. Throughout the course students will apply the skills learned to practical analysis problems emphasizing parsing and working with biological data formats, exploratory data analysis and visualization, and numerical and statistical methods.
This course is only open to first-year students in the CMDB program.
Instructors: Taylor

020.637 Genomes and Development
This course covers the genetic analysis of development, model developmental systems, cell determination, organization of tissues and organs, cell motility and recognition, and sexual reproduction.
Instructors: Van Doren, Spradling, Halpern, Bortvin, Chen, Taylor
Spring, 3 hours

020.668 Advanced Molecular Biology
An advanced course in organization and function of eukaryotic and prokaryotic genes, including discussion of techniques to analyze gene structure and transcription.
Instructor: Schleif
Spring, 3 hours

020.674 Graduate Biophysical Chemistry
Students interested in pursuing biophysical research, who have taken undergraduate physical chemistry, may opt to take a two semester series in Molecular Biophysics (250.-689-690). This course will provide an overview of protein and nucleic acid structure, fundamentals of thermodynamics and kinetics, ligand binding, folding and stability of macromolecules, and the principles of biophysical methods such as fluorescence spectroscopy, NMR, and X-ray crystallography. Similar topics are covered in the two-semester series, but with greater emphasis on mathematical and quantitative analysis. Students wishing to pursue this option should consult with faculty.
Instructors: Hilser, Bowman, Woodson, Roberts
Fall, 3 hours

020.686 Advanced Cell Biology
All aspects of cell biology are reviewed and updated in this intensive course through critical evaluation and discussion of the current scientific literature. Topics include protein trafficking, membrane dynamics, cytoskeleton, signal transduction, cell cycle control, extracellular matrix, and the integration of these processes in cells of the immune system.
Open to graduate students and advanced undergraduates by permission of the instructor.
Instructors: Staff
Fall, 3 hours

020.699 Responsible Conduct in Research (INTERSESSION)
The Johns Hopkins Departments of Biology, Biophysics, Chemistry and Carnegie Institution are committed to promoting the highest ethical standards among our administration, faculty members, and students. Therefore, all trainees and training faculty are required to attend the discussions series, Responsible Conduct of Research. The two week series meets for 6 two hour sessions and will be offered every January. Graduate students must attend the discussion series during their first year of study. Science has come under increased scrutiny and scientific misconduct has become a public issue regularly addressed in the media. Against the background of public skepticism, each university must make a visible commitment to responsible conduct of research. We believe that this is best accomplished by case-based discussions involving both trainees and faculty who are active investigators. In addition to general information, such as Honor in Science, participants will be expected to read related handouts sent to them before each session. Copies of the material contained in the suggested reading list will also be available. Through the use of pre/post testing and presentation evaluations, the course will respond to the specific needs of trainees and faculty.
Instructors: Staff

Elective Courses

020.606 Molecular Evolution
A history of life on earth has been recorded in the DNA of organisms that live today. But what language is it and how can we read that history? This course introduces basic principles of molecular evolution plus a wide array of methodologies used to interpret molecular sequence data. Many interesting studies of gene and genome evolution will be covered as examples of this burgeoning area of research. This fun and popular course now includes computer labs that will enable students to obtain first-hand experience in this exciting field of research.
Instructor: Cunningham
Spring – odd years

020.612 Introduction to the Human Brain
This course explores the outstanding problem of biology; how knowledge is represented in the brain. Relating insights from cognitive psychology and systems neuroscience with formal theories of learning and memory, topics include (1) anatomical and functional relations of cerebral cortex, basal ganglia, limbic system, thalamus, cerebellum, and spinal cord; (2) cortical anatomy and physiology including laminar/columnar organization, intrinsic cortical circuit, hierarchies of cortical areas; (3) activity-dependent synaptic mechanism; (4) functional brain imaging; (5) logicist and connectist theories of cognition; and (6) relation of mental representations and natural language.
Instructor: Hedgecock

020.613 Biology Science Writing
Students will learn how to write abstracts and grant proposals, organize scientific manuscripts and thesis dissertations by writing and rewriting about their own research and editing other students’ work. Focus will be on structure, substance, accessibility, and clarity of writing.
Instructor: Audrey Huang

020.614 Signaling in Development and Disease
An advanced undergraduate level seminar on current topics on signal transduction mechanisms underlying neuronal morphology, development and function. The proper functioning of the nervous system relies on the establishment of precise neuronal circuits through a developmental program including proliferation, neuronal migration, axonal growth and neuronal survival. This course pertains to the extracellular cues and downstream neuronal signaling pathways that coordinate these key events during neuronal development. The course will also cover the role of aberrant signaling mechanisms in neuronal degeneration and disease.
Instructor: Kuruvilla
Fall 2014

020.616 (N) Planets, Life and the Universe
This multidisciplinary course explores the origins of life, planets’ formation, Earth’s evolution, extrasolar planets, habitable zones, life in extreme environments, the search for life in the Universe, space missions and planetary protection.
Prerequisites: Three upper-level (300+) courses in sciences (Biophysics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, Math, or Computer Science).
Instructors: DiRuggiero, Norman

020.620 Stem Cells
This course consists of introductory lectures given by faculty members, followed by student presentations in the form of seminars. The introductory part will cover the basic knowledge about stem cells, such as: What features make cells qualified as stem cells? What are the unique cellular and molecular properties of stem cells? How do stem cells maintain their identities? What are the mechanisms underlying stem cell differentiation and reprogramming? What are the therapeutic applications of stem cells? The student seminar will be based on selected literatures by the faculty. A summary mini-review paper is required for a chosen topic at the end of the semester.
Instructor: Chen
Spring – even years

020.630 Human Genetics
This course will examine the growing impact of human genetics on the biological sciences, on law and medicine, and on our understanding of human origins. Topics include structure and evolution of the human genome, genetic and physical mapping of human chromosomes, molecular genetics of inherited diseases and forensic genetics.
Instructor: Hedgecock
Fall – even years

020.638 Regulation and Mechanisms of the Cell Cycle
The great progress in eukaryotic cell cycle research in the past decade was made possible by a unique synergism between different modern biological approaches (genetic, cell biological, biochemical, and developmental). These approaches will be highlighted in this course. We will cover the mechanisms the cell employs to carry out its duplication cycle, such as DNA replication, mitotic spindle function, and cytokinesis, as well as the regulatory mechanisms that govern these processes. The relationship of cell cycle biology to the cancer problem will receive special attention.
Prerequisites: 020.305, 020.306, and 020.330, or the equivalent.
Instructor: Hoyt
Spring – even years

020.640 Epigenetics & Chromosome Dynamics
It has become finally recognized that the primary structure of the DNA is not the sole and absolute determinant of the phenotype of an organism. Much depends on the modulations of the primary information by time and tissue specific enzymatic modifications of this information and the result is the epigenetic information potential within the nucleus. This potential is dynamic; it can be “written and re-written” in the life-trajectory of a cell. We will examine the various process and states of genome epigenetics, from simple genes to whole chromosomes, chromosomal subsets and even the whole nucleus. This graduate level course will consist of few special overview lectures given by the instructors and the rest will be student presentations. The topics will be selected by the faculty but we will also consider the inclusion of special and timely topics suggested by the students. The duration of each session will be 90 minutes. Upper level undergraduates may register with signature of the instructors. The evaluation of the students for grade assignment will depend on a) the quality of the student’s oral presentation; b) the students extent and depth of participation in the discussions of each and every seminar; c) the completion of papers given as homework assignments. Attention is mandatory for all sessions. No specific textbook will be assigned but the students will be sent to special Journals and books and are expected to search relevant literature and visit references beyond those provided by the instructors and share their findings with all in the class.
Instructors: Migeon, Moudrianakis

020.643 Graduate Virology
Viral infections are a major health problem to the entire world. The human and economic cost to society is tremendous; however, for many of these diseases no effective cures are available. Viral infections like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, herpes, HPV, SARS, avian flu, west nile virus, dengue not only affect or threaten people in the developing world but also in the most developed regions of the planet. Currently, fewer than 30 antivirals have been approved by the FDA, most of which specifically target HIV/AIDS. This course will discuss current strategies and approaches for the development of new anti-virals using a molecular and thermodynamic point of view.
Instructors: Beemon

020.644 RNA
A graduate seminar course that will explore RNA from Its beginning in the primordial RNA world to its present-day roles in gene regulation in bacteria, mammals, and viruses. Topics will include: The early RNA world, Riboswitches, Ribozymes, evolution of protein synthesis, splicing, telomerase, RNA interference, microRNAs, long non-coding RNAs, Viral non-coding RNAs, and RNA therapeutics.
Grad students only. Undergraduates with permission of instructor.
Instructor: Beemon
Spring Odd

020.650 Eukaryotic Molecular Biology
The field of molecular biology is fundamental for those interested in modern biological research and medicine. In this course students examine DNA, RNA and protein synthesis (i.e., the “central dogma” of molecular biology) in molecular detail, as well as how these processes are regulated and interrelated. There is significant examination of molecular structure-function relationships, with particular emphasis on RNA synthesis and processing and chromosomal organization, nucleosome regulation and epigenetics. Modern and fundamental experimental techniques and concepts are explored in detail. Students will learn how to use some genome databases and bioinformatics tools available online to improve their molecular biology research skills and knowledge. Readings are both from scientific journals as well as a textbook that includes interactive online content. Students enrolled in 020.650 will have additional assignments compared to those enrolled in 020.380.
Instructors: Zappulla, Moudrianakis and Beemon
Fall, one 1.5-hour and one 2.5-hour session per week

020.670 (N) Emerging Strategies and Applications in Biomedical Research
Up-to-date primary literature manuscripts related to new discoveries and new strategies that are allowing scientists to make amazing progress in biomedical research will be presented. Examples include: labeling neurons with up to 90 different colors to trace their circuitry, evolution studies in glowing bacteria, detecting several viruses on a single chip and using fiber optics and channel rhodopsin to induce sleep. Students should be interested in reading primary literature research papers and discussing them in class.
Instructor: Hattar
Spring – 3 hours

020.679 Advanced Biological Microscopy
This course is intended to build upon the basic skills students acquired in the previous course. Students will be required to work on actual ongoing research projects. The course will emphasize the integration and use of various light and electron microscopic techniques and their application to various research related questions. The course will have primarily a practical “hands-on” component; but will also include theoretical considerations as students will read, analyze, and discuss current journal articles.
Prerequisites: Introduction to Biological Electron Microscopy and approval of the instructor.
Instructor: McCaffery
Spring – even years

020.684 Fundamentals of Drug Discovery
The creation and implementation of new approaches to the drug discovery and development process is a very active area of research. Currently, only one compound out of 5,000 that enter preclinical studies becomes a drug. Moreover, the development process is time consuming, lasting more than ten years on average. The rate of failure is extremely high. It has become evident that this field is in urgent need of revolutionary changes. This course will cover drug discovery issues ranging from the identification of hits to their optimization as drug candidates. Current as well as novel and proposed approaches aimed at accelerating discovery, potency optimization, selectivity, pharmacokinetics and other drug properties will be discussed.
Graduate students only.
Instructor: Freire

020.731 Critical Thinking in Biology (formerly “Molecular Morphogenesis”)
In this course, students will critically analyze modern and seminal primary research papers in molecular, cellular and developmental biology. This analysis will emphasize the logic and experimental design of a selected set of outstanding research publications from diverse fields. Graduate students enrolled will develop the skills needed to efficiently understand and critique the rapidly expanding literature and growing diversity of biological research methods. In preparation for each class, all course participants will be expected to read and thoroughly critique the assigned paper(s). All students will submit a short, critical analysis of each paper in advance of the class session in which the paper(s) will be covered. A student will lead each discussion (once per semester, dependent upon enrollment).
Prerequisites: 020.637, 020.668, 020.674, and 020.686
Instructors: Johnston and Zappulla
Fall, 2 hours

020.735 Membrane Trafficking
The Membrane Trafficking seminar course consists of several weeks of lectures and discussions led by the professors discussing key background concepts in the field of membrane trafficking. Class meetings during the final weeks of the course are seminars on current topics in membrane trafficking, led by the students. Over the course of the semester, students will learn about the methods and logic of experiment design, model building and hypothesis testing, gain exposure to and skills in reading and summarizing scientific literature, and get experience with preparing and delivering an effective oral presentation.
Instructors: Wendland, McCaffery
Fall, odd years

020.739 Seminar: Topics in Biochemistry
Minireviews taken from the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Students select a topic of their choice from the “Compendium of Minireviews” for the current year, and present it before the class for discussion.
Instructor: Bessman
Spring, 2 hours

020.753 Logic and Methods in Biology
The purpose of this course is to gain experience in critical thinking about the logic and methods used in modern biological research. The main approach will be the critical reading, presentation, and discussion of primary research papers, and the preparation and presentation of a research proposal. It is held once a week on the NIH Bethesda campus.
Graduate students only.
Instructors: Cohen-Fix, Lichten

020.801-802 Research on Biological Problems
Independent research for the Ph.D. dissertation.
Instructors: Staff

020.823, .824, .825, .826 Introduction to Biological Research
Training in techniques of biological research in research laboratories.
Open to first-year biology graduate students only.
Instructors: Staff