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    Molecular Biology and Biotechnology

    School of Biosciences, Faculty of Science

    Undertake research-focused training that spans molecular biology to give you a unique understanding of how the latest research techniques are utilised in the biotechnology sector.
    Image of Bethaney Green, postgraduate student in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology

    Course description

    This course is designed to develop your technical skills, confidence, and autonomy to enable you to lead innovation across the fast-moving biotechnology industry.

    Throughout your studies you'll be exposed to the diverse areas of biology and engineering, with your module choices allowing you to integrate molecular science with chemical and biological engineering modules. Lectures and seminars delivered by academic experts will provide you with a unique perspective on the cutting edge techniques and the collaborative research being performed in these areas.

    Through research-focused training, you’ll develop skills in planning and carrying out your own experiments, solving scientific problems in a research environment and receive extensive training in modern laboratory techniques, including CRISPR genome editing, molecular cloning, organism handling, DNA sequence analysis, PCR, SDS-PAGE and western blotting.

    Once you’ve mastered these fundamental molecular bioscience techniques, you’ll apply these skills to your Research Project. Here you’ll spend up to six months researching an area of molecular biology or biotechnology that matches your future career aspirations under the supervision of an expert in the field.

    Example research projects themes include:

    • Protein and enzyme engineering
    • Plant genetic engineering Structural biology (eg X-Ray crystallography)
    • Synthetic biology/industrial biotechnology (production of useful products from microorganisms)
    • Plastic degradation using manufactured enzymes Intelligent protein optimisation / bioinformatics
    • Molecular biology (biomedical/disease related projects)


    A selection of modules is available each year - some examples are below. There may be changes before you start your course. From May of the year of entry, formal programme regulations will be available in our Programme Regulations Finder.

    Core modules:

    Laboratory Techniques in Molecular Biology

    This module will provide background knowledge, technical training and practical laboratory experience in key techniques in molecular biology and biotechnology. In particular, the module is designed to develop a student's understanding and technical training in molecular biology techniques. These may include the use of information from nucleic acid and protein sequence analyses for to design experiments, gene engineering techniques (for instance, enzymatic digest, DNA cloning, plasmid construction and production, DNA electrophoresis), protein and nucleic acid quantitative and qualitative analysis techniques (for instance, PCR and western blot) and cutting-edge techniques of genome editing (Crispr-Cas9). Students will become technically competent and prepared for a research project and career in the field of molecular biology and biotechnology. 

    15 credits
    Cellular Systems Engineering for Biotechnology

    Biotechnology uses biological systems (cells) to produce valuable and novel products. The cells are often unicellular organisms such as bacteria or yeast, but could also for example be eukaryotic cells (such as CHO cells) or complete organisms such as plants. Where possible, industry is moving towards a 'plug and play' approach, often described under the general heading of Synthetic Biology. The aim of this module is to explore the complexities underlying biotechnology, including the interactions of different gene products and reactions, often grouped together under the term systems biology, and look to see how such problems are solved. Students will learn to appreciate the complexity of biological systems, the associated difficulties of predicting biological behaviour in areas such as industrial biotechnology and drug development, and emerging approaches to overcome these challenges. Students will work both individually and in small groups, to develop presentation skills and the critical skills required for the evaluation of primary literature. 

    15 credits
    Advanced Scientific Skills

    This module builds on existing, and further develops, generic scientific skills to equip postgraduate taught students with strong competences in presenting and reporting their research work using written and oral formats, in analysing data and the scientific literature, and in acquiring and extending their critical analysis skills. Teaching will be delivered using a blended approach with a combination of lectures, workshops, tutorials and seminars together with independent study and on-line teaching.

    Taught throughout the academic year, the module will be articulated around three units addressing: 

    Unit 1) Scientific presentation skills. In this unit, students will explore how to develop their academic (writing and oral) presentation skills. Some of the topics taught may include how to formulate a research question and hypothesis, how to find information, and how to structure a scientific essay or report. Students will learn how to communicate effectively their research to a scientific, as well as lay, audience. Emphasis will be placed on short oral communications and poster preparation and presentation.  The learning objectives will be acquired through lectures, workshops, tutorials and independent study.

    Unit 2) Critical analysis skills. This unit prepares students to develop their ability to analyse and appraise the scientific value of the published and unpublished literature. Workshops and lectures will introduce students to the process of critical appraisal of scientific work. 

    Unit 3) Statistics and data analysis skills. In this unit, students will learn methods to gather and analyse large datasets. In particular, workshops and lectures will teach students the basics of R coding and statistics for application in biosciences. The unit may also deliver other forms of data analysis relevant to the programme of study. Teaching within this unit will be delivered mainly through on-line material, lectures and workshops. Independent study will be essential to complete the acquisition of skills.

    15 credits
    Advanced Research Topics

    This unit will develop the ability of students to acquire information through the medium of research seminars and published scientific papers, and develop their critical analysis skills of research data. Students will attend research seminars and demonstrate their ability to summarise the information and reflect on their learning. They will also attend a journal club, in which they will present a recently published research paper that summarise the content and impact to other students. Assessment of the unit will be on the basis of the journal club presentation, a short report on the research seminars attended, and a formal examination testing the students' skills in data analysis and interpretation.

    15 credits
    Literature Review

    This unit involves an in-depth survey of the current literature on a topic relevant to molecular biology and biotechnology, agreed with an appropriate supervisor allocated by the module coordinator. The exact nature and scope of the literature review will be determined by discussion between the student and the supervisor. Students will build upon the skills in literature searching and interpretation they have developed in their undergraduate studies, making use of a variety of databases and literature-searching tools. The unit involves primarily private study by the student who will meet their supervisor at regular intervals to discuss progress.

    15 credits

    Optional modules*

    A student will take 45 credits (three modules) from:

    Microbial Genomics and Diversity

    Microbial life is of critical importance in human health and disease, in the function of ecosystems and in biotechnology. In this module we will discuss how DNA sequencing and other molecular methods have provided insight into the structure, function and diversity of microbial communities across Earth's environments, underpinned by the varying nature of microbial genomes. Topics include the use of sequencing to identify and characterise unculturable microorganisms (also referred to as 'microbial dark matter'), the dynamic microbial populations of marine and soil environments, horizontal gene transfer and mobile genetic elements. We will also cover the use of genomics to track the spread and evolution of pathogens including Escherichia coli, HIV, Ebola, SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), Clostridiodes difficile (C. diff) and Streptococcus pyogenes (Strep A).

    15 credits
    The Biotech and Pharmaceutical Industry

    This lecture module will be taught by professionals from a wide range of companies in the drug industry and from the business services team here at the University of Sheffield. The course will teach students the major steps in the drug discovery process including; screening, development, testing, small molecule manufacture, venture capital funding, patent law, the growing field of contract research and the roles each company has within this industry. Students will learn directly from specialists within these fields. From the Sheffield business team, the students will learn how new ventures are started from University and the process of generating new spin out companies.

    15 credits
    Advanced Biochemical Engineering

    This module will extend the use of classical chemical engineering principles of mass balance, energy balance and mass transfer to unit operations used in the manufacture of biopharmaceuticals. This will include fermentation, cell culture reactors, homogenisation, centrifugation, filtration and chromatography. Unit operation specific models will also be applied to predict these operations effectiveness.

    15 credits
    Genomic Approaches to Drug Discovery

    The module will teach students the basis of small molecule and functional genetic screens, focusing on human disease.  Students will learn about the theory and practice of automated small molecule and genetic screens. Examples of screening methods that will be covered include traditional small molecule screens, modern functional genomics and high throughput phenotypic screens. The emphasis will be to appreciate every step that is involved in this process, from automation to analysis. The student will learn how the biotech, academic and pharmaceutical industry use these techniques to identify new candidates for potential therapies.

    15 credits
    Plant Biotechnology

    This module considers the application of biotechnology to plants, for both agricultural and research uses. It covers the production of transgenic plants and how this technology has resulted in genetically engineered crop plants that show novel traits or produce novel products. It also covers traditional methods of plant breeding for the development of novel crops without the use of genetic engineering. The release of genetically engineered crops has and is having a major impact on society, raising issues of ethical, economic and ecological importance. An appreciation of these issues will be developed.

    15 credits
    The World of RNA

    This module will analyse the vital roles that RNA plays in the life of a cell and how RNA is increasingly used as a tool to understand biology. The module will cover the following 'cutting edge' research topics: RNA interference, CRISPR Genome Editing, non-coding RNAs, together with the latest work on well known RNA based activities. These include transcription, RNA splicing, RNA stability, RNA export and translation and how all these processes are coupled in the cell to ensure efficient, quality-controlled gene expression. The module aims to present the latest innovations and discoveries in the RNA world and their application.

    15 credits
    The Microbiology of Extreme Environments

    The overall aim of this module is to provide a detailed account of how microorganisms survive in extreme environments on Earth. The first part of the course examines a range of extreme environments including salt lakes, hot springs, polar regions, mining areas, soda lakes, deserts, hydrothermal vents and sea ice and explains the metabolic processes used to grow optimally under these extreme conditions. The growing industrial applications of extremophilic microorganisms will also be covered. The second part of the course looks at how proteins are adapted to remain stable and active under extreme conditions, since proteins readily denature under moderate heat, increased levels of salinity or changes in pH.

    15 credits
    Advanced Bioprocess Design Project

    This module will cover the design of whole biomanufacturing processes for the manufacture of biotherapeutic proteins. This will include a taught component, where process design principles and practice will be learnt; plus assistance during the design process, where you will produce a process design and accompanying report. The course will also cover part of modern quality by design, specifically the attainment of product critical quality attributes through the control of process parameters and its ramifications on process design will be discussed.

    15 credits

    *Please note, students that take the Advance Bioprocess Design Project module must also take Advance Biochemical Engineering, as the content of these two modules is interlinked.

    Students will take one of the following:

    Research Project in Industry

    This module provides training in research methods in molecular biology, in an industrial lab, by means of an extended project. Training is also provided in record keeping and writing up. Projects are supervised by industrial research staff, in liaison with a member of MBB staff: this will include a site visit. This unit is designed to provide students with experience of undertaking investigations independently on a specific research topic, in an industrial setting.

    60 credits
    Research Project

    This unit provides a period of laboratory work, with training in experimental techniques, record keeping and writing up. Projects are supervised by a member of staff within the School of Biosciences or another suitable department, and are related to on-going research projects within the Department or in other suitable research laboratories. This unit is designed to provide students with experience of undertaking investigations independently on a specific research topic, so that they can develop a research oriented approach, and gain experience of laboratory work in preparation for a future career in science. 

    60 credits

    The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.

    Open days

    An open day gives you the best opportunity to hear first-hand from our current students and staff about our courses.

    You may also be able to pre-book a department visit as part of a campus tour.Open days and campus tours


    1 year full-time


    This masters course will provide you with high-level skills in practical experimental science, through personal supervision and training by experienced academic scientists, in modern, well-equipped laboratories, leading to a project where you’ll design and conduct your own research.

    Teaching will also be delivered using lectures, seminars and small grouping teaching to develop your academic understanding and become skilled in critically analysing scientific literature and producing your own scientific writing.


    Assessment is based on a combination of coursework, practical laboratory work, oral presentations, formal examinations and a dissertation.

    Your career

    Biotechnology is a rapidly developing area that is heavily dependent upon molecular approaches, creating significant demand for graduates with strong experimental skills and knowledge of molecular bioscience and biochemical engineering.

    The specialist training students receive on our Molecular Biology and Biotechnology MSc means our graduates are highly employable, with many working in biotechnology in roles including:

    • Device Development Scientist, Pfizer
    • Research Associate, Ortho Bio Therapeutics
    • Research and Development Manager, EDX Medical
    • Analytical Scientist, Oxford Biomedica
    • Research Scientist, Entropix Ltd

    Students have also gone on to PhD training in:

    • Plant Biotechnology
    • Enzyme Engineering
    • Human Health and Disease
    • Membrane Protein Biogenesis
    • Chemical Engineering

    By choosing the School of Biosciences for your postgraduate study you'll join our global alumni network, where 93% of our biosciences graduates are employed in life sciences or related fields across the globe. Explore our interactive map of graduate destinations:


    School of Biosciences

    Firth Court quad

    The School of Biosciences brings together more than 100 years of teaching and research expertise across the breadth of biology.

    It's home to over 120 lecturers who are actively involved in research at the cutting edge of their field, sharing their knowledge with more than 1,500 undergraduate and 300 postgraduate students.

    We carry out world-leading research to address the most important global challenges such as food security, disease, health and medicine, ageing, energy, and the biodiversity and climate crises.

    Our expertise spans the breadth and depth of bioscience, including molecular and cell biology, genetics, development, human physiology and pharmacology through to evolution, ecology, biodiversity conservation and sustainability. This makes us one of the broadest and largest groupings of the discipline and allows us to train the next generation of biologists in the latest research techniques and discoveries.

    Khushboo Malhotra

    The course director helped me to get to where I am today

    Khushboo Malhotra MSc Molecular Biology and Biotechnology

    Khushboo is now a Microbiology Laboratory Technician at Isopharm here in Sheffield, using the lab techniques she learnt on her course every day, and teaching her colleagues how to use them too!

    Molecular Biology and Biotechnology MSc

    My year studying Molecular Biology and Biotechnology MSc

    Linshu Xiong Molecular Biology and Biotechnology MSc

    Linshu was looking for a hands-on masters course to build on her undergraduate studies in biotechnology. This course gave Linshu technical skills training including how to use industry-standard lab equipment, ready to pursue a PhD.

    Entry requirements

    Minimum 2:1 undergraduate honours degree in molecular biology or a related subject (e.g. biochemistry, genetics, biotechnology, microbiology).

    We also accept medical students who wish to intercalate their studies.

    We may also consider your application if you do not meet the standard academic requirements but you have relevant professional experience. An interview will be required in this case.

    We also consider a wide range of international qualifications:

    Entry requirements for international students

    Overall IELTS score of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component, or equivalent.


    We accept medical students who wish to intercalate their studies. Find out more on the School of Medicine and Population Health website.

    If you have any questions about entry requirements, please contact the department.


    You can apply now using our Postgraduate Online Application Form. It's a quick and easy process.

    Apply now


    +44 114 222 2341

    Any supervisors and research areas listed are indicative and may change before the start of the course.

    Our student protection plan

    Recognition of professional qualifications: from 1 January 2021, in order to have any UK professional qualifications recognised for work in an EU country across a number of regulated and other professions you need to apply to the host country for recognition. Read information from the UK government and the EU Regulated Professions Database.