MSc in Cell and Molecular Systems Biology

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: School of Medical Sciences


The MSc in Cell and Molecular Systems Biology is a new programme at the University of Aberdeen devised to meet a growing requirement for biologists who can effectively contribute within interdisciplinary teams of researchers that use systems biology approaches. Our current experience is that as a result of poor mathematical training, biology researchers frequently struggle to operate effectively within such teams, and have difficulty communicating productively with theoreticians involved in system modelling. This programme will provide training that will address that gap in understanding. This well-designed programme first delivers basic training in the mathematics required to model biological systems, then applies this training to the development of mathematical models, including biosystems models. In parallel, students are taught advanced enzyme kinetics and metabolic control analysis, both of which underpin the development of metabolic models. They also take a course in post-genomic technologies, so that they understand the methodological basis of the burgeoning volume of high-throughput, genome-wide data available to systems biology, including issues of data quality and statistics. In the second semester, more material is provided on advanced biochemical techniques, statistical analysis, and on model development and testing. In parallel, the students will team-work in small study groups to individually develop the mathematical model that will form the subject of their research project in semester 3. In doing so they, put into practice the first semester's teaching in a tutor-supported environment. The output from this independent model development will be a scientific paper describing their model, which will be assessed. Through this process, they will have initiated the mathematical model that will form the subject of their research project. Finally, in semester 3, the students will go into biology labs to carry out their own research project. They will generate primary data using a specific biological system, and develop, then validate, the mathematical model initiated during semester 2 as part of module 2a 'Modelling biological systems'. In addition they will present a seminar on their project to develop the art of communicating systems biology effectively. Both a biologist and theoretician PI will supervise the students' project to oversee the model development and wet biology elements of the project. Entry requirements for the course will include a first degree in a biological subject area, and some form of documented mathematics experience. This will be provided either by an A-level or AS-level in Mathematics, or under the Scottish system, a Higher or Advanced Higher in Mathematics. Alternatively, evidence of mathematics training at undergraduate level can be provided. For students who have a particularly advanced mathematical training, alternative course options are available in the first semester if the course director considers the prior training adequate (module 1c [30 credits] can be replaced by more advanced modelling and computing modules 1d and 1e, each of 15 credits; see Programme Specification document). Programme approval by the University is underway, and final approval is expected early December 2009. Aberdeen's External Examiner for Degrees in Biochemistry, Prof Gordon Lyndsay (Glasgow), has examined the proposed MSc programme, and his strongly supportive report is attached.


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