Molecular Biology and Biotechnology

Molecular Biology is the branch of biology that studies the macromolecules essential to life. Biotechnology uses knowledge of how biological systems work to manipulate living organisms to create useful solutions. In the BSc Molecular Biology and Biotechnology programme at Stellenbosch University, you will explore the leading edge of modern scientific research. You will learn how molecules such as DNA, RNA, and proteins influence the fundamental processes of cellular life. This will lay the foundation for a career as a molecular cell biologist or biotechnologist in the private or public sector, or in the academic environment.


Biochemistry is the study of chemical processes occurring in living organisms. In essence it brings together, Biology and Chemistry, and it enable scientists to use this knowledge to solve puzzles regarding the functions of cells that forms the makeup of life. Biochemistry supports a range of scientific disciplines like genetics and microbiology, but it also supports disciplines like chemistry, forensics, plant sciences and medicine. And because of its vast scope biochemistry is very important in understanding life sciences in general. In Biochemistry, you will also learn how biological pathways work in metabolism and how the components of the biological pathways, such as proteins, lipids and carbohydrates are produced and function within metabolism.


Microbiology (micros = small; bios = life; logos = science) is the study of microscopically small living organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa and algae. Although microbes are impossible to see with the naked eye, they make up 60% of all living matter on Earth with a huge impact on every other living organism on the planet. Microbial activities and interactions are vitally important to virtually all processes on Earth, playing critical roles in cycling of nutrients, biodegradation, climate change, food spoilage, and the cause and control of disease. The application of fundamental microbial knowledge has led to the development of numerous medical, veterinary, industrial, environmental and other biotechnological applications that benefit humanity.


Genetics is the study of how biological information is stored, transmitted, translated and expressed. It therefore forms a central pillar of biology and also overlaps with many areas like agriculture, medicine and biotechnology.  In Genetics you will learn of genes, heredity, and genetic variation in living organisms. This means that we can understand and predict the physiological behaviour of a living organism such as a plant, animal or human.


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What is my career options?

Biotechnologists have the following career options:

Biotechnology combines the fields of biology, genetics, microbiology, physics and chemistry. As a result of this, there are a lot of career opportunities.

Public sector:

  • Universities: teaching and/or research
  • Tertiary education
  • Agriculture and fisheries
  • Hospital laboratories
  • Public Health Laboratories
  • National Blood Services
  • Forensic science
  • Research Institutes
  • Environmental Pollution Control
  • Military laboratories
  • Natural Resource Management
  • Drug Application Reviewer

Private Sector:

  • Biotechnology companies
  • Food and Drink (includes brewing)
  • Health and Beauty Care
  • Medicinal Instrument development
  • Chemical manufacturing
  • Pharmaceutical industry
  • Vaccine development and production
  • Agriculture industry
  • Consulting
  • Laboratory Sales
  • Pharmaceutical Sales Representative


  • Patent law
  • Scientific journalism
  • Science graphic design
  • Project management
What is the admission and selection requirements?

Please refer to the Faculty of Science Calendar (Part5).

Or visit the website:

What subjects do I take for the Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Programme?

In your first year you will either follow Curriculum 1 (Biology, Chemistry, Maths (Bio), Physics (Bio), Science in context) or curriculum 3 (Biology, Chemistry, Maths, Physics, Science in context).

In year 2 you will do Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology

In year 3 you will pick two majors between Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology or the option to combine core Biotechnology modules with Biochemistry or Microbiology.

What are the subjects about?

Biochemistry, is the study of the chemical processes occurring in all living organisms. In essence, Biochemistry brings together biology and chemistry and enables scientists to use this knowledge to solve puzzles regarding the function of cells that forms the make-up of life. Biochemistry supports a range of scientific disciplines like genetics and microbiology, but also chemistry, forensics, plant science and medicine. Because of its vast scope, biochemistry is very important to understand life sciences in general. In Biochemistry, you will learn how biological pathways work in metabolism and how all the components of biological pathways such as proteins, lipids and carbohydrates are produced, as well as their function within metabolism.

Genetics is the study of how biological information is stored, transmitted, translated and expressed. It therefore forms a central pillar of biology and also overlaps with many areas like agriculture, medicine and biotechnology. In Genetics, you will learn of genes, heredity, and genetic variation in living organisms. This means that we can understand and predict the physiological behaviour of a living organism such as a plant, animal or human. For more information about genetics, visit the Genetics stall. Genetics is part of the Faculty of AgriSciences.

Microbiology is the study of microscopically small living organisms, such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, algae and protozoa. Microbes represent >60% of life on earth and are central to the study of biological systems. Without them, life as we know it would simply not be possible. Studying Microbiology, you will gain an understanding of microorganisms’ morphology, metabolism, physiology, reproduction and genetics, as well as their interactions with other organisms and their role in ecology. You will also learn how fundamental microbial knowledge led to the development of numerous medical, veterinary, industrial, environmental and other biotechnology applications that benefit humankind.

Is it possible to change between study directions within the Faculty of Science?

Yes, you can change programmes or streams, especially after your first year. It will be easier to change after your first year if you have done Curriculum 3 as this curriculum is more versatile between programmes. Curriculum 1 is more specific for biological subjects. Changing between year 2 and 3 is also still possible, but there will be limitation in choice. Changing programmes after year 2 might result in an additional year of study. However, you have to make a formal request to change programmes or streams. The Science Faculty’s Academic Committee will then have to approve your request.

For detailed programme information, please consult the Faculty of Science Calendar (Part 5)

What are my postgraduate options?

In each of the disciplines covered, there are the opportunity to further your studies. You can follow-up your BSc with a BSc Honours degree (1 year). You can then move on to a MSc (2 years) and a PhD (3 years). You could also pursue postgraduate studies in other disciplines such as Plant Biotechnology, Wine Biotechnology and Medical Microbiology to name a few. The focus of your postgraduate studies depends on your undergraduate majors.

How do universities, technology institutions and colleges differ?

Technology institutions focus on the student becoming technically qualified within a specific field and is focused on teaching the student practical skills instead of theoretical concepts. This prepares the student to work in a chosen field with specific skills. Colleges enhance the skills and knowledge of the student to be able to enter a specific profession. Universities are more academically focused and teach students critical thinking and problem-solving skills, allowing students to enter into a wide range of professional fields.

Microbiology | What topics are covered at first-year level?

The “Microbial Diversity” sub-module of Bio144 introduces you to the various groups of microorganisms (viruses, bacteria, fungi and yeasts), their cell structures, life cycles and nutritional requirements. The practical importance of these microorganisms is discussed, with examples of products, which are industrially produced. The intention of this module is not to give you detailed information on each group of microorganisms, but to brief you on certain basic aspects as a necessary background for a study in biology and to stimulate you to continue with further studies (and research) in Microbiology.

Microbiology | When will I start doing experiments with microorganisms?

Practical sessions are held in our undergraduate laboratories. Here you will learn how to grow microorganisms, how to identify them and how to isolate them as pure cultures from environmental samples. At second- and third-year level, you will be taught Molecular Biology techniques that enable you to isolate and clone genes, study gene expression and metabolic processes, as well as their applications.

Microbiology | Do microbiologists use microscopes for all their research?

No, surprisingly, microbiologists rarely use microscopes! We grow our microorganisms in liquid and on solid media and learn to identify them using their growth characteristics, colour, smell, biochemical properties, and genetic characteristics that we study using Molecular Biology techniques. We use microscopes to confirm the purity of our cultures, and in some very advanced techniques such as fluorescent dye labelling of cells and electron microscopy analysis of cell structures.

Microbiology | Do microbiologists always work in laboratories?

Because microorganisms are so small, they are ideally suited as subjects for study in laboratories. However, only a small percentage of all the available microorganisms in the environment have ever been isolated and studied, so microbiologists are continually searching for new species. If fieldwork excites you then you may become one of those microbiologists that collects samples from underwater volcanoes, sea sponges on the Great Barrier Reef, or frozen lakes in Antarctica – the possibilities are endless!

Microbiology | Are microorganisms dangerous?

Most microorganisms are harmless. The ones we use in teaching and research are safe, and we teach you the correct handling techniques for all microbial samples. Some microorganisms are pathogens, and you will learn about the diseases they cause, as well as how to control them. For those interested in Clinical Microbiology, we also do research on antimicrobial substances from bacteria, fungi and plants as well as the development of biosensors, wound dressings and drug delivery systems.

Microbiology | Do microbiologists have a creative side?

Definitely! The skills required in the study of Microbiology vary from the highly analytical (data analysis, writing of software programs, statistics, etc) to observational (an eye for detail, good record keeping, etc) to practical (handling of tools and equipment) but all of them require a high degree of creativity. Designing of experiments and problem-solving need creativity and some of the best microbiological applications have come from “wild ideas”!

Genetics | For which degree do I enroll for if I want to study Genetics, and for how many years do I need to study?

You have two main options, either you enroll for a BSc degree in the Science faculty, or you enroll for a BScAgric degree in the Agrisciences faculty. If you enroll for a BSc degree you can either do BSc (Molecular Biology and Biotechnology) or BSc (Human Life Sciences with Biology), and if you enroll for a BScAgric degree you can either do BScAgric (Crop Production) or BScAgric (Animal Production). A BSc degree is three years with the option of a fourth year (Honours). A BScAgric degree is four years.

Genetics | What are the admission requirements to study Genetics?

The following table summarises the admission requirements for the BSc and BScAgric degrees.

Faculty of Science


BSc (Molecular Biology and Biotechnology)


BSc (Human Life Sciences with Biology)



An average final mark of 65%, excluding Life Orientation.


Afrikaans or English (Home Language or First Additional Language) 4 (50%)

Physical Sciences 4 (50%)


Mathematics 5 (60%)

(If you will be taking Mathematics (Bio) 124 and Physics (Bio) 134, 154, instead of Mathematics 114, 144 and Physics 114, 144 for which you require a 6 (70%) for Mathematics.)


Faculty of Agrisciences


BScAgric (Crop Production)


BScAgric (Animal Production)




An average final mark of 60%, excluding Life Orientation.


Afrikaans or English (Home Language or First Additional Language) 4

Physical Sciences 4

Mathematics 5


Genetics | What career opportunities do I have after studying Genetics?

As a scientist trained in Genetics, you will be able to fill vacancies at research institutions, hospitals, wildlife parks and zoos, biotechnology and pharmaceutical enterprises.

Genetics | What is the Institute for Plant Biotechnology?

The Institute for Plant Biotechnology (IPB), which forms part of the Genetics department, is a diverse and multi-cultural post-graduate research environment focused on high quality and inter-disciplinary research, and they offer post-graduate degrees at all levels of tertiary study in biotechnology.

Genetics | Who can I contact if I want more information about studying Genetics at Stellenbosch University?

You can contact the department chair, Mr Willem Botes, at You can also contact the department manager, Ms Thanja Allison, at