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Instead of using a textbook, is there an alternative curriculum, that simply lists a set of pubmed research articles for each topic covered in a typical undergrad molecular biology course?

I am currently learning molecular biology by reading a textbook. Different chapters focus on different topics such as Cells and Genomes, Cell Chemistry, Proteins, DNA, Gene Expression, etc... However, I'd prefer to learn these topics directly from research papers on pubmed.


For example, I would imagine the DNA "chapter" of such a curriculum would include the Watson Crick paper on DNA.

As another example, searching for "Protein" in pubmed reveals a ton of research papers, but which subset of them cover the topics taught in an intro molecular biology course?


Note: The pubmed articles don't have to be free or open access, I'm ok with getting the papers through my university library. Also if an alternative curriculum such as this doesn't exist, maybe there is a supplemental one? Or maybe you can recommend a set of papers that you'd include in such a curriculum?

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I love this idea, but I think some things may just be better learned from a textbook, like the basics. But if you find something interesting I highly encourage you to look for a review article on that topic. The problem is that journal articles, even reviews, are meant to be specific. You may not be able to find a review on just 'mRNA' for example, but you can easily find reviews on topics like mRNA decay and mRNA splicing. –  von Mises Nov 5 '13 at 20:32
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3 Answers

Tom Silhavy would use a similar method in the first year graduate Molecular Biology course.

His text was basically a set of papers bound into a book "The power of bacterial genetics: a literature based course". I'm not sure its in print anymore, but a used copy can be had. If you find a copy you can just fetch the papers if you like.

You can't do much better than finding excellent papers to read.

Briefly, the class covered the development of selection for mutations and mapping them onto genes - use of bacteriophage and replicate plating. The papers started in the 40s and went on from there to the heyday of molecular biology.

It was an awesome course to take... an awesome baptism of fire.

As they say... Whatever doesn't kill you, will select you for a distinguishing phenotype.

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If you are interested in quantitative/systems biology, the reading list for a course like this at Princeton has been published (with some context for each paper). I know this course reading list has also been taught at Stanford. They definitely look like good papers, and some of them are fairly recent.


Edit: I remembered another book of classic literature I've heard is good: Landmarks of Cell Biology. If you look at the Table of Contents, you can get quite a few of the articles straight from PubMedCentral, and with a reasonable university license you can download the rest. It's been an inspiration to at least one rising star professor at UCSF (link to a fun bio-sketch).

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this is cool - Silhavy's class was there too. –  shigeta Nov 6 '13 at 20:04
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There are in fact various books where each chapter is written like a published review. These are not text books, but they are very technical. Off the top of my head I can think of this one for example:

Hatfield DL, Berry MJ, Gladyshev VN. Editors. (2011) Selenium: Its molecular biology and role in human health, 3rd Edition. Springer.

Like all such books, it consists of various chapters, each of which is a short review of the relevant topic by leading authors in the field. The problem with this is that a certain level of knowledge is assumed. Using your example, you won't be able to understand the original DNA paper if you don't understand the results of X-Ray crystalography experiments. Published articles assume that the reader is already an expert and they won't explain basic concepts.

A better way would be to read your textbook and then, once you have read and understood a chapter, look into that chapter's references and read through those. Most serious textbooks include published articles at the end of each chapter, if yours does not, get a new textbook.

Finally, another choice would be to read a review article. Those of the Trends and Current Opinion series are particularly good. They tend to be very well written and, most importantly, highlight the seminal papers in their references. Just pick one that is about a subject you are interested in and then look at the references. The important papers in the field will be marked with and seminal works with ••. So, read the review and then read the •• papers.

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