Frequently Asked Questions
Please click the plus sign next the questions below to reveal their answers.
Toggle ItemWhat is the difference between Microbiology and Molecular Biology?At BYU, MMBio is short for “Microbiology and Molecular Biology”. But what exactly is different between the two? Where do they overlap?
Both microbiology and molecular biology deal with tiny things—how life functions at microscopic levels. However, the two are at different scales. The human body is estimated to contain 30 trillion cells and 40 trillion bacterial cells . E. coli, one of the most common bacteria on earth, is 20 times smaller than a human skin cell. That’s the level at which microbiologists are interested. Microbiology is all about the tiny microbes (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) that coexist in the world around us, and often in our own bodies.
Inside bacteria is DNA, the strands of molecules that comprise the genetic code of every living thing (and even nonliving things, like some viruses). A double helix of DNA is more than 4000 times smaller than an E. coli cell and can condense even further. Areas of DNA that code for important structures a d functions in a living organism are called genes. Along with tiny DNA are tiny proteins that carry out a cell’s functions, like DNA replication and waste cleanup. Molecular biology mostly studies these genes and proteins to determine how life works on a molecular basis.
Another difference is what kinds of questions each branch of biology asks. Like zoologists study the physiology, ecology, and evolution of animals and populations of animals, microbiologists look at the physiology, ecology, evolution, and applications of microorganisms. This means microbiologists study anything from how gut microbiota influence human health, to how bacteria can survive in the most extreme of environments like geysers in Yellowstone. Microbiologists also study pathogenic microbes like viruses and bacteria that cause infection. During the COVID-19 pandemic, microbiologists have been helping drive production of vaccines and educating the public on how viruses function and infect hosts.
Molecular biologists are concerned with the structure and interactions of molecules found in cells, like proteins and the nucleic acids that form DNA. Molecular biologists ask questions of how RNA can be used to inhibit the transcription of cancer-causing genes and how to edit genetic material. Molecular biologists also study the molecular mechanisms behind parasite-host interactions and how viruses called bacteriophages can infect and kill pathogenic bacteria. Molecular biologists help therapeutic treatments for cancer and disease be identified and developed.
As in most fields of science, molecular biology and microbiology intersect. Microbiology labs will use molecular biology methods, like CRISPR-Cas9—a system derived from E. coli bacteria—to edit genes of target microorganisms. Molecular biology use microbes as model organisms to research questions regarding molecular pathways in cells.
Toggle ItemWhat do I need to know for graduation?
Toggle ItemCan courses taken from other universities fulfill BYU requirements?
Toggle ItemHow can I know when a class will be offered?
Toggle ItemHow do I add a minor?
Toggle ItemHow do I reserve a room in the LSB?
Toggle ItemWhere can I find Major Academic Plans (MAPs) for majors & minors in Microbiology, Molecular Biology, and Medical Laboratory Science?MAPs can be found here. Please note: The first page of the MAPs has all the classes required for both the University Core and the major. The second page has an eight semester plan for students, along with information about the major and career opportunities within the discipline.
Toggle ItemHow many MMBIO courses should I take per semester?It is recommended that students take no more than three MMBIO courses per semester in order to succeed in the program. Two courses per semester is preferred.
Toggle ItemWhat is the Biology Field Exam?As part of the requirements for most Life Sciences majors, you are required to take a national ETS exam. All institutions of higher learning use assessment tools, and the ETS Biology Major Field Test is one tool that the departments in the College of Life Sciences have chosen to assess the efficacy of the biology curriculum.
“The Biology Major Field Exam contains about 150 multiple-choice questions, a number of which are grouped in sets and based on descriptions of laboratory and field situations, diagrams or experimental results. The subject matter is organized into four major areas: cell biology; molecular biology and genetics; organismal biology; and population biology, evolution and ecology. Some of the questions within each of the major areas are designed to test examinees’ analytical skills. It is designed to take two hours and may be split into two sessions. This test must be given by a proctor. Mathematical operations do not require the use of a calculator.”
Students in the following majors are required to take the exam: Biodiversity and Conservation, Bioinformatics, Biological Science Education, Biology, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Biophysics, Physiology & Developmental Biology, and Genetics, Genomics, & Biotechnology.
You do not need to study for the exam as it will cover material that you have already learned in previous courses. You do not need to bring anything with you except for a pencil or pen. Scratch paper will be provided.
Toggle ItemWhat is the MCAT and DAT?If you are a prospective medical or dental student, you may have heard “MCAT” and “DAT” floating around. They are both standardized tests that help medical and dental school admissions offices determine an applicant’s knowledge of life sciences, critical reasoning, and problem-solving skills.
The MCAT is the Medical College Admission Test administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Today, it’s administered on a computer in a proctored setting and lasts 7 hours and 30 minutes. The four sections on the MCAT are chemistry and physics, critical analysis and reasoning, biology and biochemistry, and psychology and behavioral science. Each section is scored independently and then added together. The cumulative scores range from 478 to 528, with 500 being the midpoint. A cumulative score of 515 puts the test taker in the 91st percentile according to the AAMC’s 2020 percentile rank report. Most test preparation services recommend a 520 or higher to increase an applicant’s likelihood of medical school admission.
The DAT is the Dental Admission Test administered by the American Dental Association (ADA). It is also a computerized test that takes 5 hours to complete. The sections on this test are natural sciences (biology, inorganic and organic chemistry), perceptual ability (keyholes, angle ranking, etc.), reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning. The DAT is scored on each section separately using standard scores from 1 to 30. These standard scores ensure there’s no score disparity between the different forms of the DAT administered that year. According to the ADA, the national average is around 19 in each section, so an applicant may aim for higher than that in their scores to be competitive. Usually, a 21 or higher in a section puts the test taker around the 90th percentile but this may change year to year.
How do I nail them?
- Ask around. Talk to people you know who have taken them and who are ahead of you on the career path you choose. If you don’t know anyone, look on YouTube for channels about being a dentist, medical doctor, or med or dental student. Facebook and Reddit can also provide access to communities to discuss and learn from others’ experiences. The AAMC also has a page of testimonials and advice from actual MCAT takers.
- Invest in test preparation. Both the AAMC and ADA provide practice tests for a fee, and there are third-party services that provide test preparation courses and materials—sometimes for free. Use websites to create flashcards so you can review from anywhere.
- Practice test taking skills. The MCAT and DAT are lengthy tests. Work up testing stamina by increasing the length of time you can study without interruptions until you can focus for a few hours between breaks. Practice the pacing of the test when you take your practice test. The time limits for each section are outlined on the AAMC and ADA websites.
- Plan your preparation. Most sources recommend 250-300 hours of preparation in total before taking the MCAT and DAT. This is best done over 3 to 6 months. Make a plan that fits your schedule and don’t reserve a spot in a test before you have a good idea of when you’ll feel ready.
- Zoom out. It’s easy to feel like the DAT or MCAT is the pinnacle of your educational career, but it is just a means to an end. Remember why you want to pursue medical or dental school and stay focused on that.
Toggle ItemHow do I get into a lab in the MMBio Department?BYU prioritizes experiential learning wherever possible but getting into a lab may seem like a daunting task to the first-time researcher. If there is space available, it’s as easy as doing some preliminary investigation and reaching out to professors.
Research your options.
Students can go to https://mmbio.byu.edu/research-labs and explore the different MMBio labs and their research interests. Each lab website will have an overview of what their focus is, as well as what prospective students can do to contact the supervising faculty member. Some websites may list classes, skills, or experience as prerequisites so make sure you have done your research before reaching out. A common prerequisite class is MMBIO 240, but not every lab requires this.
Meet with a professor.
Once you have done your research, a particular lab may have stuck out to you. Reach out to the professor in the way they’ve specified on their website (if there’s no way specified, email is always a good option) and set up a time to meet. During this meeting, professors will get to know a bit about you and your interests, skills, and experience. They may explain their research more in depth, so it’s good to have a base understanding of what they do, and a few questions prepared beforehand. Together, you and your professor will determine if this lab is a good fit for you.
Join the lab.
Your professor will give you a permission-to-add code to join their lab and receive mentored research credit. Most professors have expectations for how long you should plan on spending in the lab each week, so make sure you are on the same page. Finally, enjoy the research and the opportunity to think critically and learn new skills!