MRC Centre for Reproductive Health
MRC Logo 2021

Required background

The basic knowledge advised for the programme

This programme assumes that you will have a good knowledge of human/mammalian molecular and cell biology at an undergraduate level. As a guide, you should be familiar with much of the material found in a standard undergraduate textbook such as the most recent editions of Molecular Biology of the Cell (Alberts B et al.). In addition, if you do not have a Reproductive Biology background, you are strongly advised to read the following text book: Essential Reproduction, Johnson MH (6th Edition 2007) Blackwell Publishing ISBN: 978-1-4051-1866-8.(Available on Amazon) If you did not cover the topics outlined below at undergraduate level, you should study the basics for yourself before you arrive. In particular, you should be familiar with the following topics:

Basic Biology

Molecular genetics: an understanding of:

  • DNA structure
  • mRNA structure
  • RNA splicing, including alternative splicing
  • The genetic code (we do not expect you to learn the code by heart!)
  • Regulation of gene expression

Definition and typical structures of:

  • Genes (eukaryotic and prokaryotic)
  • Promoters (eukaryotic and prokaryotic)
  • Enhancers (eukaryotic)

Proteins: an understanding of:

  • Structures of amino acids
  • Protein synthesis
  • How proteins are secreted or targeted to the different cell organelles
  • Primary, secondary and tertiary structure
  • Basic enzyme action

Cell Biology: an understanding of:

  • Basic structure of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells
  • Cytoskeletal elements
  • Basic mechanisms of cell adhesion and cell migration
  • Extracellular matrix
  • Typical ligand-receptor systems (steroid receptors, G-protein coupled receptors, tyrosine kinase receptors, etc)
  • Intracellular signalling systems and signal transduction
  • Mechanisms linking hormone action to gene control
  • Basic mechanisms of mitosis and apoptosis

Technologies Genetic manipulation techniques: You should understand (at least in theory!) how to:

  • Isolate cDNA
  • Perform Southern and Northern Blots
  • Clone DNA into a plasmid or other vector
  • Create and screen a cDNA library
  • Amplify DNA by PCR
  • Transfect cells
  • Create a transgenic (e.g. knockout) mouse
  • Generate tagged and chimaeric proteins

Biochemical techniques: You should understand how the following techniques work:

  • One and two-dimensional SDS-PAGE
  • Immunoblotting
  • Ultracentrifugation
  • Chromatography/ HPLC
  • Affinity chromatography

Cell biology techniques: You should understand how the following techniques work:

  • Routine cell culture
  • Phase contrast microscopy
  • Bright and epifluorescence microscopy
  • Immunocytochemistry

Laboratory skills required:

  • Some laboratory experience
  • Use of micropipettes
  • Ability to make up solutions
  • Simple molecular biology (e.g. making and running a gel)


  • Some histology
  • Cell culture
  • Immunohistochemistry


  • Familiarity with library and literature searching resources (e.g. Pubmed, Medline)