What is a Cellular Biology Degree?

Every living organism is made up of one or more cells. The cell is the fundamental unit of life. Cells are the structural and functional organization in organisms. All cells come from pre-existing cells that have multiplied. All biochemical processes are carried out by cells. These are the tenets of cell theory, proposed in 1837-1838. Cellular or cell biology is key to understanding how organisms develop, how they respond to their environment, and how the diseased state differs from the healthy state.

Diseases like meningitis, malaria, diabetes, cancer, cystic fibrosis, and Alzheimer’s are all caused by problems at a cellular or molecular level. By studying cells and understanding how they work, cell biologists are able to develop more effective medicines and new vaccines. But cell biology is not just about disease. It has applications in human fertility, genetic analysis and health forecasting, agriculture, sustainable fuels development, archaeology, and forensic science.

From single-celled bacteria to the trillions of cells that make up a human body, students of cell biology learn about cellular structure, composition, and regulation; cell growth; cellular division; and cell death.

Program Options

• Degree programs in cellular biology may be offered as combined programs in molecular and cellular biology.
• Cellular biology is rarely offered as a major at the associate level. Related associate degrees in histology and histotechnology are much more common. These programs train students to work as specialized medical lab technicians, known as histotechnicians, who study tissue samples and prepare specimens for research or examination by pathologists. Core coursework includes histopathology laboratory theory, operations, and management; fundamental histotechnology techniques; and a histology practicum.

Bachelor’s Degree in Cellular Biology – Four Year Duration
Bachelor’s degree programs in cellular biology introduce and explore the concepts and theories of cell biology with emphasis on its application in understanding human health. The curriculum is built around the subdisciplines of the field, which are:

• Active and Passive Transport – the movement of molecules into and out of cells
• Cell Adhesion – how cells and tissues hold together
• Cell Division – how cells duplicate themselves
• Cell Signaling – the regulation of cellular behavior by molecular signals from outside the cell
• Cellular Metabolism – the processes involved in creating and expending energy

Topics covered include:

• Types of cells – different types of cells and their structure and function; examples of cells in the body include stem cells, sex cells, blood cells, fat cells, and cancer cells
• The differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells – eukaryotic cells have a nuclear membrane that surrounds the nucleus; prokaryotic cells do not
• Cellular metabolic processes
• DNA replication
• Cell cycle control
• Development, regeneration, and stem cells
• Analysis of genomic data
• Gene expression and RNA processing (how genetic information is stored and expressed to form specialized cells)
• Cellular communication (how cells transport materials and communicate)
• Cell cycle control
• The molecular mechanisms involved in DNA replication and its controls during the cell cycle
• Laboratory techniques used to monitor protein function
• Chromatin structure (chromatin is the material that makes up a chromosome, consisting of DNA and proteins called histones)
• The structure and function of different types of viruses
• The mechanisms by which viral infections proceed
• The traits that distinguish viroids from viruses
• The characteristics of enzymes and their importance to cellular functions
• Biodiversity (the biological basis of the variety in the living things that exist on earth)
• Biotechnology currently being used to diagnose and treat diseases
• Application of cellular biology knowledge to solve problems and issues in health

Graduate Certificate in Cellular Biology – Nine Month to Two Year Duration
The graduate certificate in cellular biology is aimed at graduate students in a variety of disciplines from agriculture to veterinary medicine, who are looking for professional training to add to their skill sets; working professionals seeking retraining and/or additional training; educators who require continue education credits; and non-degree seeking students who want interdisciplinary science and professional training. A bachelor’s degree in biology, biochemistry, cellular biology, chemistry, genetics, microbiology, or a related field is typically required for admission into the program.

These are examples of courses that may be part of the graduate certificate curriculum:

• Endocrinology – vertebrate endocrinology and the principles of chemical integration, emphasizing the physiology of regulatory mechanisms and the cellular and molecular bases of hormone action
• Topics in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics of Parasites – molecular genetics, cell biology, and biochemistry of parasites; systems of unique significance to parasites
• Bioenergetics and Metabolism – fundamentals of the carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur cycles in nature, including key reactions of biomolecules such as carbohydrates, amino acids, lipids, and nucleotides, and of energy production and use in different types of organisms; principles of metabolic regulation
• Medical Microbiology – introduction to the microbial species that cause human disease, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites; their biological characteristics, epidemiology, mechanisms and routes of transmission, pathogenesis and immunity, host response, control, and prevention
• Biology of Aging – biological processes accompanying aging in human and other organisms; emphasis on physiological decline; theoretical explanations; attempts to prolong life; and the utility and limitations of model systems used to analyze human aging
• Population Genetics – exploration of the patterns and dynamics of genetic variation in populations, and how they are connected to the processes that underlie evolution; topics include the quantification of genetic variation, mutation, selection and fitness, genetic drift, migration, population structure, quantitative traits, and adaptation at the molecular level; connecting genotype (genetic characteristics) with phenotype (physical characteristics) and ultimately with fitness; the evolution of drug resistance; experimental evolution of microbes

Doctoral Degree in Cellular Biology – Five to Six Year Duration
The goal of the Doctoral Degree in Cellular Biology is to prepare students for a future in research or academia, or for senior level non-academic career paths.

Sample areas of study / research:

Cell Structure and Function
• Cytoskeleton and cell motility (the spontaneous movement of a cell from one location to another by consumption of energy)
• Cell division and cell control
• Chromatin and gene expression
• Organelle biogenesis (the process by which new organelles – specific structures within a cell – are created)
• Endosymbiosys (a symbiotic relationship where one organism lives inside the other) and cell evolution
• Neurobiology
• Cellular metabolism
• Hormone action

Cells and Disease
Cellular mechanisms of:
• Cancer
• Alzheimer’s
• Aniridia – an eye disorder characterized by a complete or partial absence of the colored part of the eye (the iris); aniridia can cause reduction in vision sharpness and increased light sensitivity
• Lysosomal storage diseases – inherited metabolic diseases that are characterized by an abnormal build-up of various toxic materials in the body's cells as a result of enzyme deficiencies
• Chagas disease – also known as American trypanosomiasis, Chagas disease is a potentially life-threatening illness caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi; it is mostly transmitted by contact with feces or urine of triatomine or ‘kissing’ bugs
• Alcoholism and addiction
• Schistosomiasis – also known as bilharzia, schistosomiasis is a disease caused by parasitic worms; it is second only to malaria as the most devastating parasitic disease
• Immunopathology – various diseases in which body fluid and cellular immune factors play a role in causing pathological damage to cells, tissues, and the host

Cells in Development
• Development of the embryo
• Cell fate determination
• Cell differentiation and morphogenesis
• Stem cell biology
• Temporal and spatial control of gene expression
• Neural development
• Development of perception and behavior

Cells in Infection and Immunity
• Parasite cell and molecular biology
• Host parasite interaction
• Parasite metabolism
• Immune Response and memory
• Pathogenesis (the way a disease develops)
• Adaptations to parasitism
• Mechanisms of host defense
• Lymphocyte migration (lymphocytes are white blood cells that are also one of the body’s main types of immune cells; they are made in the bone marrow and found in the blood and lymph tissue)
• Cytokines (a large group of proteins, peptides, or glycoproteins that are secreted by specific cells of the immune system)

Degrees Similar to Cellular Biology

The focus of biochemistry is the chemical processes and reactions that occur in living matter. Biochemists apply principles of both biology and chemistry to issues in many different sectors, including the environment, medicine and health, industry and manufacturing, agriculture, biofuels, and marine science.

A general biology degree program may include subjects like animal biology, invertebrate biology, vertebrate biology, cellular and molecular biology, evolution, microbiology, and ecology.

Biomedical Engineering
Simply stated, biomedical engineering uses engineering to solve health and medical problems. For example, a biomedical engineer might look for chemical signals in the body that warn of a particular disease or condition.

Majors in this field study engineering and the life sciences to create new products – such as vaccines, medicines, growth hormones for plants, and food additives – for the agricultural, industrial, and environmental industries. Among typical classes are biochemistry, general biology, cell biology, chemistry, and genetics.

Botany is the study of the physiology, structure, genetics, ecology, distribution, classification, and economic importance of plants. Degree programs in the field include courses in biochemistry, microbiology, photosynthesis, and plant evolution.

Cytotechnology is the study of cells and cellular anomalies. Cytotechnologists use a microscope to examine slides of human cells to uncover evidence of abnormalities that may reveal inflammation, infection, or disease.

Students who pursue a degree in ecology study how organisms interact with the natural environments that they live in and how these environments can be protected. In other words, the focus of ecology is to understand ecosystems as well as the social and political interests and policies that threaten them. An ecology curriculum, therefore, starts with courses in both the natural sciences – like biology, chemistry, physics, and geology – and the social sciences.

Genetics is concerned with how traits such as hair color, eye color, and risk for disease are passed or inherited from parents to their children, and how these inherited traits differ from person to person. At the center of the study of genetics is the genetic code or ‘genome.’ This genetic information is made up of a chemical called deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and is stored in almost every cell in the body.

In the broad sense, immunology is the field of biology which studies the immune system, also known as the body’s defense system. In medical terms, immunology is the subspecialty of internal medicine which deals with both the normal and abnormal functioning of the immune system. Immunologists work with adult and pediatric patients suffering from common diseases such as asthma, food and drug allergies, immune deficiencies, and diseases of the lung. Their responsibilities in laboratory-based work involve conducting original medical research and experiments and developing new treatments, therapies, or vaccines to control infections and illnesses.

Microbiology is the study of all living organisms that are too small to see with the naked eye. These ‘microbes’ include bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi, prions, protozoa, and algae.

Molecular Biology
The field of molecular biology is concerned with genetics, with the structure and the relationships between four molecules in the body: proteins, fats, carbohydrates, nucleic acids.

Pharmacologists study how drugs and medicines work so they can be used in the right way. The work naturally involves an understanding of chemical and biological interactions.

Zoology students learn about animals, their evolution, anatomy, physiology, and natural habitats. Graduates may be employed by zoos, veterinary clinics, or labs. Their work may involve monitoring and writing reports on animal behavior, analyzing specimens to test for diseases, and/or working in the areas of ecology and conservation.

Skills You'll Learn

• Attention to detail
• Awareness of ethical issues
• Communication and teamwork
• Computer literacy
• Experiment design and troubleshooting
• Judgement and decision making
• Lifelong learning
• Observation, investigation, critical thinking, and complex problem solving
• Organization
• Quality control analysis
• Practical lab skills
• Report writing, documentation, and presentation
• Research and data analysis and interpretation
• Safety consciousness
• Use of statistical tests in data analysis

What Can You Do with a Cellular Biology Degree?

Cellular biology graduates work in biotechnology, medical research, toxicology, and more. Some use their degree as a stepping stone to graduate studies or another professional degree such as medicine, veterinary medicine, or pharmacy.

Potential employers of cellular biologists include these industries and sectors:

• Agriculture
• Biomedical Technology
• Biotechnology Companies
• Education
• Environment and Pollution Control
• Food and Beverage Manufacturers
• Food Safety
• Government
• Health Policy and Administration
• Health Promotion and Patient Advocacy
• Hospitals and Medical Centers
• Medical Research
• Pathology
• Pharmaceutical Companies
• Public Health / Epidemiology
• Research and Development
• Testing Laboratories
• Toxicology
• Zoos, Aquariums, and Wildlife Parks

Below are some sample job titles. Some roles may require further education.

• Bacteriological Technician
• Biological System Specialist
• Bio-Safety Officer
• Cancer Researcher
• Cardiovascular Researcher
• Cell Biologist
• Cell Culture Specialist
• Clinical Quality Auditor
• Clinical Researcher
• Control Analyst
• Cytologist
• Food Scientist
• Forensic Laboratory Analyst
• Forensic Scientist
Health Educator
Laboratory Technician
• Medical Illustrator
• Medical Laboratory Technologist
• Medical Writer
• Molecular Genetics Technologist
• Pathology Technician
• Pharmaceutical Researcher
• Pharmaceutical Technician
• Plant Molecular Biologist
• Product Manager – Stem Cell Biology
• Quality Control Microbiologist
• Research Scientist
Teacher / Professor
• Toxicologist
• Toxicology Consultant
• Ultra Sound Technologist


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