Gene Expression

Be able to describe the importance of the central dogma of molecular biology in orienting our understanding of information flow in living systems.

Be comfortable with the salient features of the genetic code including codon-anticodon relationships, reading frame, start & stop codons, and codon degeneracy.

Be able to outline the steps of gene transcription including the role of transcription factors, RNA polymerase, and protein factors involved in nucleosome modification.

Be prepared to describe in some detail the types of RNA synthesized in the nucleus of eukaryotic cells including mRNA, rRNA, tRNA, snRNA, snoRNA, and miRNA.

Have at least a general sense of the different types of RNA polymerase.

Be able to describe the steps of RNA processing in eukaryotes from pre-mRNA to mRNA from synthesis of the cap, removal of introns, splicing of exons, and synthesis of the polyA tail.

Comprehend the processes and significance of alternative splicing.

Describe the architecture of tRNA and its role in the process of translation.

Be able to describe the functions of the codon AUG in starting translation and the functions of the stop codons UAA, UAG, and UGA.

Have a detailed, descriptive understanding of the steps of translation from initiation to elongation and termination.

Be able to distinguish bacterial forms of regulation of gene expression from eukaryotic regulation of gene expression.

Be able to describe the structure and significance of the Lac operon and tryptophan operon in gene expression of many bacteria.

Have at least familiarity with the basics of transcriptional, post-transcriptional, and translational regulation of gene expression in eukaryotes.

DNA Replication, Repair and Cellular Reproduction

Be able to describe the functions of the enzymes primase, helicase, DNA polymerase and DNA ligase in DNA replication.

Understand the differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic origins of replication

Be able to distinguish the leading strand and the lagging strand.

Be prepared to describe the role of telomeres in compensating for incomplete semi-conservative DNA replication at chromosomal ends.

Understand how positive and negative control mechanisms work in eukaryotic DNA replication.

Be familiar with the process of post-replicative modification of DNA by methylation.

Be able to narrate the processes of prokaryotic cell division.

Have a thorough understanding of what occurs in each of the stages of the eukaryotic cell cycle.

Be able to describe how cyclins and cyclin dependent kinases regulate progress through the cell cycle and understand how tumor suppressor genes prevent the progression of the cell cycle.

Understand the processes of eukaryotic cell division and specifically, be prepared to describe what occurs within each phase of mitosis.

Be able to describe the condensed eukaryotic chromosome using the terminology chromatid, chromatin, kinetocore, and centromere.

Understand the main features of the spindle apparatus.

Know how to distinguish meiosis and mitosis and be able to narrate meiosis.

Be able to describe how the process of crossing over occurs during meiosis and be prepared to describe how this affects genetic diversity in offspring.

Be able to present various examples of extra-nuclear inheritance.

Transmission Genetics

Be able to summarize the key findings in the work of Mendel using the terms gene, allele, heterozygous, and homozygous.

Become fluent in Mendel's methods including monohybrid and dihybrid cross as well as P1, F1, and F2 generation.

Know how to construct and interpret Punnet squares for monohybrid and dihybrid crosses.

Be able to describe how Mendel's work led to the understanding of the distinction between phenotype and genotype.

Be able to recount Mendel's reasoning in arriving at the Principle of Segregation and the Principle of Independent Assortment.

Understand how to construct and interpret a test cross.

Understand the proper usage of the term 'wild type'.

Know how to interpret pedigrees.

Be prepared to interpret the exceptions to Mendel's rules that have been illustrated in modern genetics.

Comprehend the various relationships of dominance between alleles for the same gene including complete dominance, incomplete dominance, and codominance. Be aware of sex linked traits and multiple allelic series.

Understand how an epistatic phenotype may derive from interactions among multiple genes and also understand how a single pleiotropic gene may influence multiple, seemingly unrelated phenotypic traits.

Recombination and Mutation

Be able to reproduce a clear, concise definition of genetic recombination and designate the primary contexts in vivo and in vitro.

Be prepared to describe synaptonemal complex and the different kinds of crossing over events which may occur.

With homologous recombination understand why recombination frequencies are proportional to the distance between markers and why co-inheritance frequency is inversely proportional to the distance.

Distinguish gene conversion from chromosomal crossing over.

Have a basic familiarity with the nonhomologous end-joining mechanism for DNA repair.

Be familiar with the various kinds of mobile genetic elements including transposons, plasmids, bacteriophage DNA, and group II introns.

Be able to narrate the events of bacterial conjugation, transduction, and transformation (transfection with eukaryotes).

Know how mutations are distinguished by their effect on structure (point mutations, insertions, deletions, amplifications, chromosomal translocations, chromosomal inversions), how they are distinguished by their effect on function (amorphic, neomorphic, or antimorphic) and how they are distinguished by their effect on protein sequence (frameshift, missense, nonsense, or silent).

Know the causes of mutations including examples of different kinds of spontaneous mutations and examples induced by mutagens.

Understand the relationship between mutagenicity and carcinogenicity.


Be able to describe the methods involved in common electrophoresis procedures including SDS-PAGE of proteins, denaturing PAGE of DNA & RNA, and electrophoresis of DNA & RNA using agarose gels.

Be familiar with a broad array of chromatographic techniques including column chromatography, gas-liquid chromatography, HPLC, paper chromatography, TLC, size-exclusion, ion-exchange, and affinity chromatography.

Know the basic principles involved in the techniques for sequencing of DNA (especially Sanger) and protein sequencing (especially Edman).

Be able to relate the laboratory protocols of the most commonly employed wet-lab assay techniques in the molecular biology laboratory including Southern blot, northern blot, ELISA, and western blot.

Understand the PCR technique enough to be able to explain the basic method.

Understand the role in gene expression analysis of such techniques as northern blotting, RT-qPCR, and in-situ hybridization for RNA and western blotting and ELISA for protein.

Familiarize yourself with the range of molecular biology techniques which the MCAT won't necessarily assume extensive prior knowledge but may present in passages such as S1 mapping, Dnase footprinting, or mobility shift assay.

Be able to relate temporal-spatial patterns of gene expression to the differentiation potential of stem cells.

Master a working familiarity with recombinant DNA technology including the purpose of restriction endonucleases, the variety of vectors available, and cloning techniques.

Be aware of how cDNA is prepared and the techniques involved in the generation of cDNA libraries.

Have up-to-date knowledge of the latest advances on the frontiers of applied biotechnology in medicine, agriculture, forensics and be able to intelligently discuss issues of safety and ethics in biotechnology research and application.

Human Genetics

Know how to apply Mendelian concepts to human genetics including interpreting a pedigree chart for patterns of inheritance as well as sex-linked traits.

Be familiar with the procedures involved in human karyotyping.

Be able to describe the basis of techniques based on RFLP analysis including screening and fingerprinting.

Be prepared to describe the karyotype and symptoms associated with the most prominent human chromosomal, allelic (autosomal), and sex-linked genetic abnormalities.

Understand the process of X-chromosome inactivation (Barr bodies).


Be able to describe the basic components of a virus.

Be prepared to distinguish the various types of virus using the Baltimore classification system.

Be able to narrate the stages of the infective cycle of DNA bacteriophages.

Be able to distinguish the infective cycles of negative from positive strand RNA viruses.

Understand the infective cycle of retroviruses.

Understand the difference between lytic and latent infections.

Be able to describe how viruses may be used as vectors in recombinant DNA experiments.

Be familiar with subviral particles prions and viroids and models proposed for their replication.

The Molecular Biology Laboratory

Bird's Eye View

Hold yourself responsible for solid mastery of the fundamental principles in Physics and Chemistry.

Have a clear mental image of the model phenomena within each physics and chemistry topic and be able to describe the five to ten main concepts of each topic.

Gain an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses at the level of fundamentals. Begin to see your knowledge base as a performance you can refine by study and practice.

Knowledge Mapping

Be prepared to discuss the basic biochemistry of macromolecules with the language of organic chemistry, for example, relating peptide bond formation, for example, to acyl exchange mechanisms or ring formation of monosaccharides to hemiacetal formation.

Achieve steady improvement in your skill at writing MCAT essays.

Be able to apply physical science concepts to the biochemistry of macromolecules such as the role of solubility effects in determining tertiary protein structure.

Understand the intentions of the writers of Verbal Reasoning questions on the MCAT.

Work on integrating your knowledge of the biological macromolecules with concepts from molecular genetics, cell biology, metabolism, and physiology.

Integrate membrane functions within the broader biological context. Examples include the importance of membranes in energy and signal transduction.

Understand the structure of the Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic cell in the light of the transcription and translation of genetic material.

Psychology & Sociology

Critical Analysis and Reasoning

Improve the stamina of your reading attention. Practice sustaining your focus through dense reading material.