Graduate Track in
Molecular Cell Biology, Genetics and Development

The faculties of the Departments of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, of Cell Biology and of Genetics have joined with like-minded faculty from many other departments to offer a broad program of graduate studies covering molecular cell biology, genetics and development. Students take classes, do lab rotations and participate in other training activities on the Arts and Sciences campus and at the Medical School.


Cell biology, molecular biology, and genetics have emerged as central to virtually all pursuits in the biological and biomedical sciences. The situation has become all the more apparent with the wealth of information emerging from the many ongoing genomics projects in mammalian and other organisms. Once new genes are identified, the activities of encoded proteins can be determined at the cellular level to understand their functions, interactions, and biological significance, especially during development.

The research interests of the faculty in the MCGD Track cover a broad but integrated array of topics, and research projects often combine approaches from several fields. For example, some faculty use genetics and molecular biology to investigate the cellular basis of developmental processes, while others combine biochemistry and genetics to study basic cellular processes or the molecular basis of disease. The experimental approaches used are similarly rich and broad in scope, involving the use of microscopy and biochemistry as well as classical and molecular genetics to analyze function in yeast, Drosophila, C. elegans, Arabidopsis and mammalian cells and tissues.

Students will have access not only to an exceptionally broad range of research topics but also to a range of highly specialized experimental approaches. These include advanced light microscopy of cells and tissues, electron microscopy and image analysis, electrophysiology (e.g., single-cell and patch-clamp recording) and microarray analysis of nucleic acids and proteins.

Individual faculty and core laboratories are well equipped for research in all areas of modern cell biology, biochemistry, genetics, physiology, and membrane biophysics. Importantly, these facilities offer not only technical support and service but also a commitment to the training and education of graduate students in their respective techniques. These facilities include the newly formed Center for Cell Imaging (, which not only houses state-of-the-art instrumentation for confocal and electron microscopy, but also maintains an active training program, including regularly scheduled laboratory courses in which students receive hands-on training.

Research Focus

CELLULAR NEUROBIOLOGY: Track faculty investigates diverse neurophysiological phenomena at the subcellular, single-cell, and systems level, including synaptic vesicle dynamics and axonal guidance.

CYTOSKELETON AND CELL MORPHOGENESIS: Track laboratories offer strong research programs on the cytoskeleton and molecular motors, particularly their roles in the morphogenesis and function of cells and tissues. The approaches range from morphological to genetic and from biochemical to molecular.

DEVELOPMENTAL BIOLOGY: The modern study of developmental biology involves the concerted application of genetics, cell biology, and biochemistry. Accordingly, MCGD Track faculty uses a combination of these approaches to address aspects of development in both plants and animals. Topics under study include pattern formation, oogenesis, nervous system development, cell migration, and embryogenesis. Experimental systems include maize, Arabidopsis, Drosophila, C. elegans, and vertebrates.

GENETICS AND GENOMICS: The availability of genome-wide sequence data, array-based techniques for obtaining expression data, and new bioinformatics tools are revolutionizing the study of genetics. Numerous laboratories use these tools to study basic cell biology of animals, plants and fungi, as well as the relationship between genetic mutations and common human diseases such as cancer, hypertension, kidney disease, and psychiatric disorders.

MEMBRANE PROTEINS: Yale has a rich tradition and active current research effort aimed at understanding the functional and molecular aspects of specific membrane channels and transport ATPases. Laboratories range in their focus from the analysis of individual molecules using patch-clamp and molecular biological techniques to their integrated function in cells and tissues.

MEMBRANE TRANSPORT VESICLES: Yale is a world center for the study of membrane traffic and general aspects of membrane biology. A major effort is directed toward understanding the roles of proteins in the formation, fusion, and targeting of membrane transport vesicles involved in secretion, endocytosis, and synaptic transmission.

MOLECULAR AND CHEMICAL BIOLOGY: A number of MCGD faculties seek to define biological processes in molecular terms. Individual research topics include the in vivo role of an enzyme with a catalytic RNA subunit; engineering new RNA and DNA enzymes by rational design and in vitro evolution; exploration and control of signal transduction pathways using chemical probes; the evolution of metabolic pathways; and signal transduction in plants.

NUCLEIC ACIDS: The exquisite specificity of protein-protein and protein-nucleic acid interactions underlies such fundamental processes as DNA replication, recombination, and repair; gene expression; protein folding; and translation. In depth studies are being carried out on ribosome biogenesis, mRNA translation, RNA catalysis, and the interaction of proteins with DNA.

ONCOGENES, TUMOR SUPPRESSOR GENES, AND CELL CYCLE CONTROL: Disruption of key cellular control mechanisms can lead to deregulated cell growth, tumor formation, and metastasis. Laboratories are analyzing mechanisms of cell cycle control, signal transduction, viral transformation, and tumorigenesis in various systems including invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants.

PATHOGEN-CELL INTERACTIONS: The study of how viruses and protozoan parasites identify and infect their target cells reveals as much about the cell biology of the host as it does about the parasite. Together with the more parasite-based focus of the Microbiology Track, the MCGD Track contains those faculties with interests in exploring this emerging cell biological interface.

PLANT BIOLOGY: Current research areas include the molecular genetics of flowering, the developmental biology of leaves, the physiology of hormone action, the evolution of plants, host defense mechanisms, and a variety of other areas. Colleagues in the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, at the Cary Arboretum, and at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station contribute as well to the seminars, graduate classes, workshops, and field trips offered through the Track.

PROTEIN DYNAMICS: Protein sorting and targeting during processes ranging from the establishment of polarity in neurons and epithelial cells to antigen processing is another major area of activity, as is the study of chaperone function.

RECEPTORS AND SIGNAL TRANSDUCTION: The MCGD Track laboratories investigate a broad range of signal transduction mechanisms that regulate cell proliferation and membrane transport.

Program of Study

The educational goals of the Track are two-fold: i) to provide students with a solid foundation in genetics and cellular and molecular biology; and ii) to provide flexibility for students to pursue their individual interests. To achieve these goals, students are expected to complete the following core curriculum within their first two years of graduate study Molecular Cell Biology, Basic Concepts of Genetics Analysis, and Biochemistry. Students with a strong background in a core area may either take an advanced class in that area or place out of the requirement. Students are also expected to take a course in the Responsible Conduct of Research as well as Track-specific journal clubs. To ensure flexibility, students can select from a number of journal club topics most suitable their interests. Finally, students are free to select elective courses from the dozens that are offered throughout the BBS each year. Commonly taken courses include Molecular Genetics of Eukaryotes, Mechanisms of Development, Human Molecular Genetics, Molecular Mechanisms of Disease, as well as advanced seminars on various topics.

In addition to coursework and journal clubs, an equally important aspect of a student's first year is laboratory rotations. Students ordinarily perform three rotations and can work in any BBS lab, regardless of the faculty member's Track affiliation. The purposes of the rotations are to provide concentrated and direct exposure to three different research areas and to assist in the selection of a laboratory for dissertation research. The selection of a thesis lab is made at the end of the first year, at which time the student chooses a home department from which he or she will eventually earn a degree. A qualifying examination is completed in the second year, and dissertation research is usually completed in five to six years.

Click here for a list of recently completed doctoral dissertations.

Admissions Requirements

Applicants are expected to have a strong foundation in the basic sciences, including biology, chemistry, and mathematics, but the actual course requirements are flexible. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test is required, and the GRE Subject Test in cell & molecular biology, biology, biochemistry, or chemistry is recommended. Applicants for whom English is not their native language are required to submit results from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

For further information, please contact:

Shirlene Scott, Graduate Registrar
MCGD Track
Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Yale University School of Medicine
333 Cedar Street
P. O. Box 208002
New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8002
Phone: 203-785-2404


A faculty advisory committee is appointed for each first year student. This committee assists in planning a program of study. The thesis advisor is chosen by the student, with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies, normally after the second semester of residence.


FIRST YEAR: Each student is required to do three research rotations during the first year in residence. At the end of each semester, the student meets with a committee to evaluate research performance and course work.

SECOND YEAR: Each student selects an advisor who assists the student in formulating and carrying out preliminary studies that will lead to a dissertation research project. In the third semester there is an informal meeting with a committee to review the project area and to indicate those related areas of science with which the student should be familiar. In the fourth semester the student prepares and defends before this committee the dissertation prospectus and is questioned orally on related areas of science. This defense satisfies the Graduate School comprehensive examination requirement. On completion of this requirement the student is admitted to Ph.D. candidacy. The Graduate School requires that at least two Honors grades be obtained in courses during the first two years.

SUBSEQUENT YEARS: In each year until the dissertation is completed, students continue research and have an annual meeting with the prospectus committee. In the final year, the student prepares and defends the dissertation before a dissertation committee. Typically students complete their Ph.D. 3-4 years after their qualifying exam.


All students in the Combined Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences are expected to teach in two courses (two semesters) starting in the second year of study. Students are not specifically reimbursed for required teaching.


In addition to it’s participation in the BBS Program, MCDB collaborates with the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the Department of Geology and Geophysics, the Department of Anthropology, the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, as well as the Departments of, Pharmacology, Physiology, Cellular and Molecular Physiology, and Neurobiology in the School of Medicine.


The University has a limited amount of dormitory space available for single students as well as apartments for married students. The Yale Housing Department maintains a listing service for off-campus housing as well as a list of roommates who want to share accommodations. Many graduate students live in the city’s residential neighborhoods or in the suburbs inland and along the shore. Yale is located within comfortable walking distance of the City of New Haven’s historic Green and a number of residential areas. Yale’s central location, the convenience of bicycle transport, and New Haven’s bus service mean that students who live in the city do not need cars.


The University Health Services Center, located on Hillhouse Avenue two blocks from "Science Hill," provides a wide spectrum of health care services for all graduate students. The Graduate School will cover the full cost of single student hospitalization/specialty care coverage for eligible graduate students enrolled in Ph.D. programs.


Prospective graduate students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents are urged to apply for national fellowships which provide stipend and tuition support. Information on such fellowships is available from undergraduate financial aid or career counseling offices. National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship applications may be obtained from the Fellowship Office, National Research Council, 2101 Constitution Avenue, Washington, DC 20418. Graduate students who do not receive such fellowships are eligible for fellowships, traineeships, and research assistantships made available through the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department. Foreign students are encouraged to apply for financial support from their native countries and from other available sources.

The BBS Program administrates graduate student support for students admitted to the Ph.D. program to ensure students are provided with adequate financial aid for the duration of their studies. For the duration of their studies all students receive a stipend, which increases yearly (stipends will be $30,800 for the 2011-2012 school year), full tuition, health coverage, and a yearly allotment for travel to scientific meetings or courses. Financial support comes from University fellowships, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Training Grants, grants from foundations, companies, and from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Educational Alliance. External Fellowships are also available.

External Fellowships
There are numerous fellowships administered by federal or private sources for which students are encouraged to apply. The Office of the DGS maintains a file of such fellowships and an even more productive foraging ground is the Resource Library for Fellowships, Careers, and Teaching at 120A HGS, McDougal Center, 320 York St. You can visit their web site at Following is a list of some of the fellowships for which students in the Department of MCDB most frequently apply:

NSF Graduate Fellowships

Individual National Research Service Awards

National Center for Graduate Education for Minorities (GEM)


Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Website


Updated: February 4, 2013


Research Focus

Programs of Study

Doctoral Dissertations

Admission Requirements

Ph.D. Requirements

Financial Support


Graduate Courses in MCDB

Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

MCDB Graduate Handbook (pdf)

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