My learning of molecular biology ended in the early 90's (and with early 90's era information). While I don't aspire to be a molecular biologist, I do aspire to better understand modern approaches better.

Short of going back to school and taking classes, what are good resources for learning on my own? I'd like to get to the point of being able to understand Nature, Science, Cell, etc. Is this even a feasible goal?


closed as not constructive by Nick T, Cody Gray, Mad Scientist, Rory M, Hauser Dec 16 '11 at 16:11

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  • $\begingroup$ I've voted to close because this (the title much more-so than the rest) is very subjective so doesn't have a "right" answer. If you can narrow the scope to a particular issue it would be much improved. $\endgroup$ – Nick T Dec 16 '11 at 0:26
  • $\begingroup$ I think this is going to come up often, so I raised an issue on meta: meta.biology.stackexchange.com/questions/24/… $\endgroup$ – kmm Dec 16 '11 at 0:27
  • $\begingroup$ Just convert to a wiki. $\endgroup$ – Poshpaws Dec 16 '11 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Poshpaws community wiki is not a crutch for extremely subjective questions. $\endgroup$ – Nick T Dec 17 '11 at 3:46
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    $\begingroup$ Questions rarely, if ever, need community wiki. If the question needs this level of collaboration and discussion, it's probably not a good for for the site. If calls for community wiki seem to somehow "fix" that, it's probably not a good fit for the site. blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/08/the-future-of-community-wiki $\endgroup$ – Robert Cartaino Dec 19 '11 at 14:37

Sure it's feasible! Of course, there are lots of papers that I can't read even with a recent education, but you should be able to make a good dent by:

  • Getting a good modern textbook like Molecular Biology of the Cell by Alberts et al. This is becoming a standard text and gives pretty good coverage of the field. I find that it doesn't always get as detailed as I would like, but such is the nature of textbooks I think. Another textbook that some people like is Molecular Cell Biology by Lodish et al, although I don't have experience with it myself.

  • Watch online lectures. MIT OpenCourseWare has a pretty good molecular biology course. It may get basic for you at times, but the lecturers are well-respected molecular biologists and geneticists.

  • Read reviews in things like Nature Reviews to get a 30,000-foot view. Review authors often touch on concepts that primary literature assume you know. Armed with a good text, you should be able to get a good idea of what people are talking about. On a similar note, the "News and Views" commentary articles that accompany "high-impact" papers are great for giving people unfamiliar with the field a taste of why a certain paper deserves attention.

  • Come back here and ask!

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    $\begingroup$ By far the best resource mentioned here is the first textbook, Molecular Biology of the Cell published by Garland Science. It's one of a few truly great modern textbooks, with some high-school biology and that book you can learn modern molecular biology to a high level. $\endgroup$ – Rik Smith-Unna Feb 20 '12 at 22:04

You can watch the iBioSeminars, which are given by some of the best cell and molecular biologists out there.


Drop by the diybio.org mailing list, which is home to a bunch of autodidactic free thinkers like yourself. They always can suggest fun projects and learning resources.

Also check out Nature's Scitable education resource ("A collaborative learning space for science")

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    $\begingroup$ conflict of interest: I helped start diybio.org $\endgroup$ – Mac Cowell Dec 16 '11 at 3:21

Sorry, I just couldn't help but point out the following book:

Molecular biology for dummmies

Joking aside, every book from this series I read was fantastic. I didn't read this particular one, but I would nonetheless recommend to give it a try.


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