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Department of Biology


Master of Science Degree in Biology

The graduate program offers opportunities for advanced study and research leading to the Master of Science degree in Biology. A thesis option is offered to students who want an opportunity to develop expertise in research techniques and data analysis; a nonthesis option is offered for those who want the opportunity to earn the Master of Science degree primarily through organized coursework. The thesis option is recommended for students who plan a career in research or contemplate pursuing a doctorate in one of the life sciences. The nonthesis option might be suitable for students interested in secondary school teaching in the life sciences.

Graduate faculty research interests include biochemistry, cellular biology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, microbiology, neurobiology, physiology, and plant sciences. The multidisciplinary nature of the program also allows students the opportunity to broaden their educational background at the graduate level. Individual programs are organized around each student’s interests in consultation with the student’s graduate advisor.

Qualified students are encouraged to apply for teaching assistantships and fellowships.

Program Admission Requirements. To be considered for degree-seeking status, applicants must submit, along with the application, two letters of recommendation, a Statement of Future Plans, and scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). In addition to satisfying the University-wide graduate admission requirements, applicants are expected to have completed an undergraduate major in one of the biological sciences, with coursework comparable to that required for the Bachelor of Science degree in Biology at UTSA. Students whose undergraduate preparation is deficient in certain areas but who meet the minimum University standards for admission may be conditionally admitted and required to complete specific undergraduate or graduate courses as conditions of admission. In such cases, students should anticipate that additional time will be required to complete the degree. Students who are denied admission to the M.S. Program must reapply if interested in acceptance as a special graduate student or a non-degree-seeking student.

Degree Requirements. Degree candidates are required to complete a minimum of 36 semester credit hours approved by the student’s Graduate Advisor of Record. These hours are subject to the following conditions:

  • A minimum of 18 semester credit hours of graduate credit in organized classes must be earned within the department. This may include a maximum of 3 semester credit hours in graduate seminar (BIO 7051).

  • An additional 18 semester credit hours of graduate credit as approved by the Graduate Advisor of Record. This may include up to 6 semester credit hours of upper-division (3000–4000 level) undergraduate coursework (requires prior approval of the Graduate Advisor), and a maximum of 6 hours, in total, of BIO 5973 Directed Research or BIO 6953 Independent Study. For students electing the nonthesis option, a total of 3 semester credit hours of BIO 7041 Biology Colloquium must be included. Students electing the thesis option must complete 6 semester credit hours of BIO 6983 Master’s Thesis as part of this total.

Comprehensive Examination. As specified by University regulations, candidates must pass a comprehensive examination administered by the student’s Graduate Committee. For nonthesis students, this examination must be given in the semester prior to the semester during which degree requirements are to be completed. Students who do not achieve the criteria (or necessary expectations) to pass the exam will be required to enroll in the Critical Thinking & Writing for the Biological Sciences course (BIO 6963) in the following semester and retake the examination. Certain rules must be adhered to concerning the composition of the Master’s Thesis Committee and the Master’s Comprehensive Examination Committee. Only tenured or tenure-track faculty members can chair these committees, and no more than one member of either committee can be a nontenured or nontenure-track faculty member, or be from another institution. Students electing the thesis option must successfully defend their thesis research before their Graduate Committee prior to the submission of the thesis to the Dean of the Graduate School for approval.


Master of Science Degree in Biotechnology

The Master of Science degree in Biotechnology offers opportunities for rigorous, advanced study and research in biotechnology, in order to prepare students for employment and research in this rapidly advancing and expanding field. A broad common base of knowledge for biotechnology is provided in the Master’s degree by a comprehensive core curriculum that includes key areas in biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, and immunology. All students receive practical training through the completion of at least two laboratory courses. Additional coursework is selected from a list of approved lecture based and laboratory courses. The opportunity to gain research experience or develop further technical expertise is also possible through the pursuit of a thesis project or via an internship in a biotechnology-based company.

Program Admission Requirements. To be considered for degree-seeking status, applicants must submit, along with the application, two letters of recommendation, a Statement of Future Plans for a career in Biotechnology, and scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). In addition to satisfying the University-wide graduate admission requirements, applicants are expected to have completed an undergraduate major in the sciences with coursework comparable to the core required for the Bachelor of Science degree in Biology at UTSA. In particular, incoming students are required to have taken, and received at least a grade of “B” in, upper-division undergraduate lecture and laboratory courses in cell biology, microbiology and biochemistry, and to have taken undergraduate courses in molecular biology and immunology. Students whose undergraduate preparation is deficient in one of these areas of requirements but who meet the remaining standards for admission may be conditionally admitted and required to complete specific undergraduate course(s) as a condition of admission. In such cases, students should anticipate that additional time will be required to complete the degree. A minimum grade point average of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) is required for admission. Students who are denied admission to this M.S. program must reapply if interested in acceptance as a special graduate student or a non-degree-seeking student. The nature of the program dictates the number of students admitted each year is limited.

Degree Requirements. Degree-seeking students are required to complete a minimum of 36 semester credit hours that must ultimately be approved by the student’s Graduate Advisor and Comprehensive Examination Committee, as well as the Graduate Advisor of Record. Students are expected to meet with their assigned Graduate Advisor early in the first semester of study to prepare a course-degree-plan and organize a Committee as early as possible. Students must work closely with their Advisor and Committee to gain maximum benefit from this program.

Program of Study

  1. Biotechnology lectures - core curriculum (12 semester credit hours):

    BIO 5001    Ethical Conduct in Research
    BIO 5113    Principles of Biochemistry
    BIO 5123    Principles of Molecular Biology
    BIO 5133    Principles of Cell Biology
    BIO 5762    Fundamentals of Immunology for Biotechnology

  2. 3 semester credit hours in basic laboratory techniques are required:

    BIO 5033    Biotechnology Laboratory

  3. A minimum of 3 semester credit hours of additional organized laboratory experience are required, from the following:

    BIO 5143    Advanced Molecular Biology Laboratory – DNA Techniques
    BIO 5153    Advanced Molecular Biology Laboratory – RNA Techniques
    BIO 5163    Recombinant Protein Biotechnology Laboratory
    BIO 7571-3    Experimental Techniques in Biology

  4. Biotechnology electives

    Students must obtain their remaining credit hours from the following list of electives. Depending upon the student’s specialized area of study, not all elective courses may be appropriate. Students should confer with their advisor in selecting appropriate electives. Electives not listed below that students wish to use toward their degree plan must be approved by the Graduate Advisor of Record, before enrollment in such a course.

    BIO 5063     Environmental Microbiology
    BIO 5233     Medicinal Plants
    BIO 5363     Microbial Genetics and Recombinant DNA
    BIO 5403     Advanced Comparative Animal Physiology
    BIO 5423     Neuroanatomy
    BIO 5443     Neurochemistry
    BIO 5453     Neuroendocrinology
    BIO 5463     Reproductive Biology
    BIO 5473     Developmental Neurobiology
    BIO 5483     Computational Neuroscience
    BIO 5493     Cognitive Neuroscience
    BIO 5503     Sensory Physiology
    BIO 5523     Enzymes
    BIO 5543     Pharmacology and Toxicology
    BIO 5553     Toxicology
    BIO 5563     Proteomics
    BIO 5583     Molecular Neuropharmacology
    BIO 5623     Bioinformatics for Biotechnology
    BIO 5643     Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
    BIO 5653     Biology of Disease
    BIO 5723     Topics in Biodefense
    BIO 5733     Advanced Medical Mycology
    BIO 5743     Advanced Virology
    BIO 5773     Applied Fungal Molecular Biology
    BIO 5783     Introduction to Good Manufacturing Practices and Good Laboratory Practices
    BIO 5833     Membrane Structure and Function
    BIO 5971-3  Directed Research
    BIO 6113     Advanced Plant Physiology
    BIO 6123     Plant Molecular Biology
    BIO 6233     Quantitative Biology
    BIO 6243     Gene Regulation
    BIO 6253     Biodegradation of Organics in Soil and Groundwater
    BIO 6313     Molecular Biology and Biophysics of Ion Channels
    BIO 6483     Animal Behavior
    BIO 6513     Drug Development
    BIO 6523     Cell and Tissue Engineering
    BIO 6533     Topics in Biotechnology
    BIO 6543     Vaccine Development
    BIO 6553     Fermentation Science
    BIO 6563     Food Science and Biotechnology
    BIO 6773     Host-Parasite Interactions
    BIO 6803     Advanced Immunology and Immunochemistry
    BIO 6873     Microbial Physiology and Energetics
    BIO 6883     Bacterial Pathogenesis
    BIO 6963     Critical Thinking & Writing for the Biological Sciences
    BIO 6973     Special Problems
    BIO 7041     Biology Colloquium
    BIO 7051     Seminar in Life Sciences
    BIO 7571-3  Experimental Techniques in Biology
    MOT 5163   Management of Technology
    MOT 5173   Technology Transfer: The Theory and Practice of Knowledge Utilization
    MOT 5323   Biotechnology Industry
    STA 6913    Bioinformatics: Microarray and Proteomics Data Analysis

Biotechnology Internship. (Subject to availability.) The internship will require prior arrangement with biotechnology-based companies and approval of the Graduate Advisor of Record. Students may not take an internship if they select the thesis option.

BIO 7563,6,9    Practicum in Biotechnology


Thesis Option. Students electing the thesis option must complete 6 semester credit hours of BIO 6983 Master’s Thesis.

Comprehensive Examination. As specified by University regulations, degree candidates must pass a comprehensive examination administered by their Comprehensive Examination Committee. Only tenured or tenure-track faculty members can chair the Committee, and no more than one member of the Committee may be nontenure-track faculty or from another institution. For nonthesis students, this examination must be given in the semester prior to the semester during which degree requirements are to be completed. Students who do not achieve the criteria (or necessary expectations) to pass the exam will be required to enroll in the Critical Thinking & Writing for the Biological Sciences course (BIO 6963) in the following semester and retake the examination.

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Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Biology

The Department of Biology offers opportunities for advanced study and research leading to the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Biology. The Biology Ph.D. Program has two concentrations: Neurobiology or Cell and Molecular Biology. In addition, the Cell and Molecular Biology concentration offers specialized tracks in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology and Stem Cell Biology. The Ph.D. in Biology is awarded to candidates who have displayed an in-depth understanding of the subject matter and demonstrated the ability to make an original contribution to knowledge in their specialized area of study.

The regulations for this degree comply with the general University regulations (refer to Chapter 2, General Academic Regulations, and Chapter 5, Doctoral Degree Regulations).

Admission Requirements. Applicants must have a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree, preferably in biology, from an accredited university and a minimum grade point average of 3.0 in upper-division and graduate work. Applicants must submit, along with the application, three letters of recommendation, a Statement of Future Plans, and scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Applicants whose native language is not English must score at least 600 on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) paper version or 100 on the Internet version. Admission requires appointment to a teaching assistantship, research assistantship, or research fellowship. The Doctoral Studies Committees for each concentration, comprised of members selected from the graduate faculty in each program, are responsible for reviewing applications for admission.

Degree Requirements. The degree requires a minimum of 95 semester credit hours beyond the baccalaureate degree for the concentration in Neurobiology, and a minimum of 85 semester credit hours beyond the baccalaureate degree for the concentration in Cell and Molecular Biology. The curriculum consists of core courses, elective courses, seminars, required teaching, research, and completion of the dissertation following advancement to candidacy. Any grade lower than “B” in a graduate course or in remedial coursework at the undergraduate level will not count toward the minimum number of required hours. Students matriculating with a Master’s degree may use up to 30 semester credit hours toward the degree provided the courses are comparable to core and elective courses and are approved by the appropriate Doctoral Studies Committee.

Program of Study for the Concentration in Neurobiology

  1. Core curriculum (21 semester credit hours required):

    BIO 5423     Neuroanatomy
    BIO 5433     Neurophysiology
    BIO 5443     Neurochemistry
    BIO 6233     Quantitative Biology
    BIO 7113     Supervised Teaching in Biology
    BIO 7413     Research Ethics and Responsible Conduct in Research
    BIO 7571-3  Experimental Techniques in Biology – Research Rotation (3 semester credit hours required)

  2. Colloquia and seminars (19 semester credit hours minimum):

    BIO 7041     Biology Colloquium*
    BIO 7051     Seminar in Life Sciences**

    *Enrollment in BIO 7041 is required every Fall Semester and is optional in Spring Semesters.
    **Enrollment in BIO 7051 is required each semester.

  3. Doctoral research (43 semester credit hours minimum):

    BIO 7211-6  Doctoral Research (before admission to candidacy)
    BIO 7311-3  Doctoral Dissertation (for Ph.D. candidates)

  4. Electives (12 semester credit hours minimum):

    These can be selected from any 5000–7000 level courses offered in Biology or from any 5000–7000 level courses offered in other departments with the approval of the Neurobiology Doctoral Studies Committee.

The entire program of study must be approved by the student’s dissertation advisor, dissertation committee, and the Neurobiology Doctoral Studies Committee, and must be submitted to the Dean of the Graduate School for final approval.

Program of Study for the Concentration in Cell and Molecular Biology

  1. Core curriculum (21 semester credit hours required):

    BIO 5113    Principles of Biochemistry
    BIO 5123    Principles of Molecular Biology
    BIO 5133    Principles of Cell Biology
    BIO 7113    Supervised Teaching in Biology
    BIO 7143    Principles of Biological Scientific Writing
    BIO 7413    Research Ethics and Responsible Conduct in Research
    BIO 7571/7572  Experimental Techniques in Biology – Research Rotation (3 semester credit hours minimum)

  2. Colloquia (10 semester credit hours minimum—a minimum of 1 credit hour each semester throughout tenure in the program):

    BIO 7041    Biology Colloquium

  3. Doctoral research (45 semester credit hours minimum):

    BIO 7212/7213  Doctoral Research
    BIO 7311-3      Doctoral Dissertation

  4. Electives (9 semester credit hours minimum):

    These can be selected from any 5000–7000 level courses offered in Biology or from any 5000–7000 level courses offered in other departments with the approval of the Cell and Molecular Biology Doctoral Studies Committee.

The entire program of study must be approved by the student’s dissertation advisor and the Cell and Molecular Biology Doctoral Studies Committee, and must be submitted to the Dean of the Graduate School for final approval.

Molecular Microbiology and Immunology Track
The primary objective of the track in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology is to provide graduates with advanced academic and research training in all aspects of Microbiology and Immunology, especially in those areas that pertain to infectious diseases. This track will provide expertise in bacteriology, virology, parasitology, mycology, immunology, vaccinology, biodefense, and molecular genetics. The information derived from research in this area has an enormous impact on biology and medicine.

Students in this track follow the regular core curriculum for the concentration in Cell and Molecular Biology; however, their Doctoral Dissertation topic, proposal and research need to be in an area related to Microbiology and Immunology. Likewise, students are also encouraged to select the majority of their elective courses and colloquia from those offered that are broadly related to the field of Microbiology and Immunology. The overall program of study for this track may differ by no more than 12 semester credit hours from the program of study for the regular concentration in Cell and Molecular Biology and must be approved by the student’s Dissertation Advisor and the Cell and Molecular Biology Doctoral Studies Committee.

Stem Cell Biology Track
Stem Cell Biology is a rapidly emerging field rooted in basic principles of Cell and Molecular Biology that has provided new avenues to investigate normal cellular and developmental processes as well as novel approaches to learning more about and/or treating complex diseases and other debilitating conditions. The Stem Cell Biology Track will allow students pursuing their doctoral degree in Cell and Molecular Biology the opportunity to focus on Stem Cell Biology, including topics related to the basic biology of stem cells (from any species) as well as those related to translational research involving potential contributions of stem cells to tissue engineering or other therapeutic approaches. This will include, but is not limited to, molecular biology of stem cells, cell biology of stem cells, epigenetic programming in stem cells, maintenance of genetic integrity in stem cells, and the use of stem cells to study disease etiology, and will be based on studies of embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, germline stem cells, neural stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells or other tissue-specific stem cells, as well as stem cells from non-mammalian organisms including lower vertebrates, microorganisms and/or plants.

Students in this track will follow the standard curriculum and program of study for the concentration in Cell and Molecular Biology; however, their Doctoral Dissertation topic, proposal and research must be in an area related to Stem Cell Biology. Among the three elective courses required for the standard Cell and Molecular Biology program of study, students in this track will be required to take two courses focused on Stem Cell Biology—Cell Biology of Stem Cells and Molecular Biology of Stem Cells. Finally, students in the Stem Cell Biology track will be required to enroll in colloquia that address topics related to Stem Cell Biology. The overall program of study for this track may differ by no more than 12 semester credit hours from the standard program of study for the concentration in Cell and Molecular Biology and must be approved by the student’s Dissertation Advisor, a subcommittee that will oversee the Stem Cell Biology Track, and the Cell and Molecular Biology Doctoral Studies Committee.

Advancement to Candidacy. Advancement to candidacy requires a student to complete University and program requirements and to pass written and oral qualifying examinations following completion of course requirements. The examination is administered by the Doctoral Studies Committee of each concentration and is conducted as outlined in the Handbook of Academic Policies and Procedures for each concentration. No more than two attempts to pass qualifying examinations are allowed. Results of the written and oral examinations must be reported to the appropriate Doctoral Studies Committee and the Dean of the Graduate School. Admission into the Doctoral program does not guarantee advancement to candidacy.

Dissertation. Candidates must demonstrate their ability to conduct independent research by completing and defending an original dissertation. The research topic is determined by the student in consultation with their supervising professor and a Dissertation Committee. The Dissertation Committee is selected by the student and supervising professor and approved by 1) the Doctoral Studies committee; 2) the Department Chair; 3) the Dean of the College; and 4) the Dean of the Graduate School. The Dissertation Committee guides and critiques the candidate’s research. The Committee is composed of four program faculty and one outside member. The Dissertation Committee must approve the completed dissertation.

Final Oral Examination. Following an open presentation of the dissertation findings, the Dissertation Committee conducts a closed oral examination dealing primarily with the relation of the dissertation to the general field of specialty. Results of the oral examination must be reported to the Dean of the Graduate School. Awarding of the degree is based on the approval of the Dissertation Committee, which is approved by relevant Doctoral Studies Committee, the Department Chair, and the Dean of the Graduate School. The Dean of the Graduate School certifies the completion of all University-wide requirements.

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