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Biotechnology - Program Information

Biotechnology Program Information

Contrary to its name, biotechnology is not a single technology. It is a group of technologies that seeks to improve our lives by manipulating living cells and their molecules.

Biotechnology can be broadly defined as "using organisms or their products for commercial purposes."  Biotechnology has been practiced since the beginning of recorded history.  Baking bread, brewing alcoholic beverages, and breeding food crops or domestic animals all involve biotechnology. Recent developments in molecular biology have given biotechnology new meaning, new importance, and new potential.  It is “modern biotechnology” that has captured the attention of the public.  Modern biotechnology can have a dramatic effect on the world economy and society.

One of the biggest uses of modern biotechnology is in forensics and paternity testing. In criminal investigations, DNA from samples of hair, bodily fluids and skin at a crime scene are collected and compared using DNA fingerprinting technology with those obtained from the suspects. To establish paternity, DNA fingerprints of the mother, child and the alleged father are compared.

Another application of Biotechnology is the making of new drugs to cure diseases. The most widely used example of the production of insulin by inserting the human insulin gene into a harmless strain of E. coli bacteria.  This insulin can be purified and used to treat diabetes in humans. Also, gene therapy – altering DNA within cells in an organism to treat or cure a disease – is one of the most promising areas of biotechnology research. New genetic therapies are being developed to treat diseases such as multiple sclerosisAIDS and cancer.

There are also applications for industry such us agriculture. Major genetic improvements have been made in crops. Scientists have the ability to insert genes that give the plants biological defense against diseases and insects, enrich the plants in many nutrients, and even enable crops to better withstand harsh conditions such as drought. Uses of biotechnology in animal breeding include the development of vaccines to protect animals from disease, the cloning of farm animals to select for desirable traits, and to increase the rates of growth and disease detection.

Benefits can also be seen in the environment, where insect-protected biotech crops reduce the need for chemical pesticide use. Genetically modified bacteria are also being used to clean up many pollutants in the environment, including the Valdez Oil Spill.

With the recent completion of the Human Genome Project, scientists have used biotechnology to determine the sequence of all 3 billions bases in our genome. This work is pivotal for determining the causes of disease as well as assessing potential treatments and cures. The use of personalized medicine, or pharmacogenomics, will become more commonplace in the near future.  DNA testing on humans will also help determine how closely we are related to other organisms as well a shedding light on the history of human evolution and the manner in which human ancestors settled different parts of the world.

The collection of such large amount of molecular data has spawned a whole new field called Bioinformatics. This exciting field fuses biological science and computers, allowing us to predict the 3D structure of DNA, protein, and other molecules, among others. 

In summary, modern biotechnology offers opportunities to improve product quality, nutritional content, and economic benefits. Biotechnology is changing the way plants and animals are grown, and the applications of biotechnology are so broad, and the advantages so compelling, that virtually every industry is using this technology.  Developments are underway in areas as diverse as pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, textiles, aquaculture, forestry, chemicals, household products, environmental cleanup, food processing and forensics to name a few. Biotechnology is enabling these industries to make new or better products, often with greater speed, efficiency and flexibility.

Mission of the NOVA Biotechnology Program

In response to the growing biotechnology sector of business in Northern Virginia, there is a demand for employees that are familiar with and trained in basic skills common among these types of industries. This would include proper documentation methods, quality control measures, critical thinking and writing skills, basic chemical safety precautions, attributes of cell membranes, and sampling techniques. These skills will be used to work in amazing areas as research to develop new drugs to find cure for diseases such as cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and many more. Our courses will give our graduates the knowledge and skills to start a career as a technician or entry-level employee in any industry related to the many applications of Biotechnology.

There is a new Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) Degree in Biotechnology that started in Fall 2008. This program is designed to prepare graduates for immediate employment into entry-level positions as laboratory, research or manufacturing technicians, among other positions, at Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical companies. Although transfer is not the primary purpose of this degree, approximately 2/3 of the courses are accepted for transfer in most senior institutions, with more expected to transfer in the future. This new innovative program is designed to train the next generation of employees in Biotechnology and related areas of support for these industries. Our program is designed for both the student who need a strong foundation in science and/or need specific skills as well as those who want to be flexible on the job and be generalists.

We cater to all areas of students: those directly entering from high school, those needing re-training, and , career "changers," seeking entry level positions in research, and bio-manufacturing. We also have several courses such as the Biotechnology Methods and Biotechnology Concepts that can be taken by those who are obtaining an A.S. in Science. We anticipate creating new career studies certificate in 2009.

Our current facilities include a biotechnology center at the Manassas Campus where we house gel electrophoresis supplies, thermocyclers, and a DNA Sequencer in addition to basic laboratory equipment. We recently received a $500,000 earmark grant through the U.S. Dept. of Energy to build and outfit new laboratory space.

As more equipment is purchased and put in place, we can assure that all students will have a first-hand experience with the equipment. To date we have acquired digital analytical scales for use in validation, digital pipettors, electrophoresis units, multi-purpose centrifuges, microscopes, thermocyclers, cell culture facilities, gel documentation and analysis software, and laminar flow hoods. Currently, the Manassas Campus has a computerized DNA sequencer to analyze DNA of microbes, plants, and blood. This provides students with invaluable skills for jobs related to DNA technologies, and provides a brief introduction to Bioinformatics.

Curricula are being developed in current courses such as Microbiology and Botany to use the DNA sequencer. Our new DNA Methods course will include sequencing but also the use of RFLP patterns to discriminate organisms and microsatellites to compare genotypes.

Manassas is planning a Phase III building with new science labs and classrooms. This building is expected to house some dedicated lab space primarily for (a) nucleic acid and protein methods and (b) cell culture and immunological methods instruction, as well as classroom space for credit and non-credit (continuing education) classes.

Biotechnology Companies in Northern Virginia

Government Resources


Regulatory, Patent, and Legal Resources

Agricultural Biotech field



General Sites of Interest

Useful websites to look for Biotech jobs

Activities and resources for Science Teachers

Strategies for Planning

  • Get Program–Placed early in your time at NOVA.
  • As early as possible, meet with a faculty advisor to develop a proposed timeline for your program.
  • Plan to balance out your general education courses with one or more lab science each semester.
  • Check pre-requisites and timeline, and make sure you meet them, as many courses required one year of Biology or Chemistry or division approval.
  • Meet with your counselor/advisor each semester to plan what courses you will take.
  • If you are planning to enter medical or pharmacy school, prospective students are strongly encouraged to take two lab sciences concurrently as well as take the sequence of biology and chemistry courses.
  • Plan a graduation date. With a counselor, investigate the checklist of activities to get cleared for graduation.
  • Proper signature before deadlines will facilitate the processing of your paperwork for graduation by the Registrar’s office.
  • Register early!

Transfer Information

Although an A.A.S. degree is not designed to be a transfer degree, we have taken special care to include as many transferable courses as possible. At least 2/3 of our credits are transferable to higher institutions. It is our understanding that many of our graduates will want to continue their education. We are facilitating articulation agreements with local colleges and universities for 100% transferability.

Faculty Advising

Our faculty members all have experience in research and industry, as well as teaching. Note: When contacting key faculty for assistance, place the term biotechnology somewhere in the topic line of your e-mail, it will process your message faster.

Please, feel free to contact us if you need more information about our new program and courses. There is at least a faculty member on each campus who can help you decide on how to choose your courses according to your needs or career goals.

Biotech Faculty Advisors

For general Biotechnology Program questions, please email biotech@nvcc.edu and one of the Biotechnology Program faculty will respond to your questions.

For specific advising questions, the Biotechnology Program Faculty Advisors are:

For administrative inquiries, the college faculty administrators of the Biotechnology Program are:

What is Biotechnology?
Biotechnology is a very broad term for using organisms (or their parts) to do something to benefit humans. It is different than pure biology which studies “life” – in biotechnology, we apply that knowledge to do something positive for us. This could in health fields such as the detection and treatment of different diseases, or also in other fields like agriculture where foods such as corn are genetically modifies or in environmental biotechnology where we use bacteria to clean up different pollutants or create new alternate fuel sources. The set of techniques is similar throughout biotechnology (DNA extraction/analysis, protein identification/purification), the variation is that the techniques are used for different purposes.

How do I know if this field is for me?
Biotechnology is an exciting field that works on cutting-edge scientific techniques and applications. This field does require extensive training and gaining a fundamental understanding of cellular and molecular biology. The students who are the most successful and satisfied in majoring in biotechnology share several characteristics: a sense of curiosity on how the world works, a desire to help people and/or make the world a better place, an aptitude for working with their hands, having good attention to detail, wanting to collaborate with others, and an interest in always learning new things.

If this doesn’t sounds like you but you are still interested in science, NOVA and other colleges/universities offer several other educational options for students. Many students major in health-related fields such as nursing or in medical laboratory technology. These fields are a good fit for you if you are interested in working with patients. Also, some students who are more interested in environmental science can take several courses at NOVA and move onto a transfer institutions.

I am interested in biotechnology, but I don’t know what degree to complete at NOVA. What is the difference between an A.S. in Science versus the A.A.S. in Biotechnology?
There are several different types of curricula offered by NOVA. An Associates of Science degree of any kind (most biology majors pick the A.S. in Science) is geared toward people who want to immediately transfer to a 4-year university. An Associate of Applied (A.A.S.) degree has a different goal: to give student skills to find a job as a biology/biotech lab technician. That said, many of the courses in the A.A.S. in Biotechnology program do transfer to other institutions such as George Mason University. We also have an agreement with the George Washington University who accepts all of the biotech program credits into their new Bachelor’s of Professional Studies in Integrated Information, Science, and Technology program (track in Biotechnology). Students who complete the A.A.S. in Biotechnology can enter GWU as juniors and complete their program in 2 years. In one additional year at GWU, students can complete a Master’s degree in Molecular Biotechnology. The undergraduate program is located at their Arlington Campus and is much lower in cost than their programs offered downtown. For more info on this, please see: http://cps.gwu.edu/bdc/index.html. Many of our students are interested in both finding a job and pursuing a bachelor’s degree. In this case in particular, the A.A.S. in Biotechnology may be a good option. If you are unsure of which degree to pursue, you should talk with a Biotech Faculty Advisor.

What if I already have a college degree but want to take biotechnology classes?
NOVA also offers a Career Studies Certificate for Biotechnology Lab Technicians. This 1-year program is designed for students who already have a college degree. The college degree is commonly from a university in another country, in another field, or issued many years ago. If you do not have any college degree, you should consider the A.A.S. in Biotechnology as your best option as very few employers will hire someone who has no college degree.

If you already have a degree, you should plan on getting official transcripts/evaluations sent directly to NOVA. You must also then ask the counseling department to review them. Forms for this are located in each campus’ counseling department. This is necessary if you have already completed courses equivalent to the ones in the Biotech Program or wish to register for courses that have prerequisites.

What are the admission requirements for getting into the Biotechnology Program?
At the current time, students may sign up for the Biotech curricula when they first apply to NOVA or through visiting a counselor at one of the campuses. However, we strongly advise students to talk with one of the Biotech Faculty before enrolling. These are Dr. Gomez (igomez@nvcc.edu) or Dr. Mucci (dmucci@nvcc.edu). They will help determine whether the Biotech Program is a good fit for you and help you map out your course schedules. Students are also strongly encouraged to take BIO101 – General Biology in their first semester. Students will need at least a C in that course to continue in any of the biotech courses. If students are not eligible for college English or math courses (determining by taking of English and math placement tests), they are strongly encouraged to take developmental courses immediately. Students who are not placed into ENG111 are not eligible to enroll in BIO101.

What kinds of courses are offered by the Biotechnology Program?
Our A.A.S. in Biotechnology includes the following: a core set of basic science courses including 1) general biology, chemistry I/II, cell biology and microbiology, 2) a set of specialized biotech courses including an introductory lecture and lab courses, a Careers in Biotechnology course, a course in Nucleic Acids or Protein research, a course in quality control, and a Capstone Seminar in Biotechnology, 3) an internship or research project, and 4) some general education courses. Students pursuing the Career Certificate will take the specialized biotech courses, the internship, and some basic science courses.

What campuses offer the biotechnology courses, and when are they offered?
The specialized biotech courses are offered by two campuses: the Manassas Campus and the Loudoun Campus. At the current time, these courses rotate semesters between the two campuses. When additional lab facilities open in Spring 2012, more sections of these courses will be run. The following courses are offered every semester: BIO250 - Biotechnology Research Methods and Skills, BIO253 - Biotechnology Concepts, and BIO254 - Capstone Seminar in Biotechnology. BIO252: Nucleic Acid Methods runs in the Spring semester at the MA Campus, and BIO251: Protein Applications in Biotechnology runs in the Fall semester at the LO Campus. Where possible, biotechnology courses are offered in the later afternoon or evening with a start time of 5pm or later. The Biotechnology Concepts course (BIO253) is also offered on-line in the Fall semesters. All of the other general science and general education courses can be taken at any campus and general run each semester. At the current time, none of the specialized biotechnology courses are offered in the summer sessions, except the internship course. We advise students to take their general science and general education courses during this time.

Who teaches the biotechnology courses?
The Biotech Program is coordinated by Dr. Johanna Weiss who also teaches BIO253 - Biotechnology Concepts and BIO254 - Capstone Seminar course at the Manassas Campus. Dr. Ia Gomez teaches BIO250 - Biotechnology Research Methods and Skills and BIO252 – Nucleic Acid Methods at the Manassas Campus. Dr. Diane Mucci is the Biotech Program Head at the Loudoun Campus and offers BIO253 – Biotechnology Concepts on-line, BIO 250 – Biotechnology Research Methods and Skills, and BIO251 – Protein Applications in Biotechnology. All three are Ph.D. level research scientists who have published in the peer-review literature and obtained grant funding.

Does the Biotech Faculty assist in finding me an internship?
All students completing either the A.A.S. in Biotechnology or the Career Studies Certificate for Biotech Lab Technicians are required to either do an internal or external internship. Getting an internship is not guaranteed. In order to eligible for an internship, students must have:

  • Successfully completed BIO250 (formerly BIO 170) and BIO253 with a grade of “B” or better.
  • Demonstrated professional behavior including being on time, completely work in a timely fashion and working well with others.
  • Have strong oral and written communication skills.
  • Be entering their last semester of their program.

If students meet these criteria, the Biotech Program Coordinator will work with them to secure an internship. In addition to students serving as lab assistants in NOVA labs, students have been placed in internships at: American Type Culture Collection, Howard Hughes Medical Institute – Janelia Farm, Bode Technology, and George Mason University. We anticipate having more internship partners in the next academic year. Please note that the internships we have secured for students are largely unpaid. Also keep in mind that there are commonly internships through places such as the National Institute of Health, FBI, or other agencies (deadlines for summer are usually in fall/early winter). We encourage you to be an active participant in finding an internship.

Students who fail to meet the above requirements may choose to re-take classes or take additional classes before they are approved for an internship. For example, if a student does not demonstrate adequate communication or math skills, they may be required to take an additional courses before they qualify for an internship.

In terms of job placement, students are provided assistance with resume writing, job interviewing, and finding job announcements. Furthermore, some of the internships that students have completed have led to paying jobs. However, in the end, we do not offer a job placement service but have the goal of teaching you the skills you need to be competitive and offering job advice. Students are responsible for finding a job after graduation and are encouraged to start looking six months before they plan on graduating.

What kind of job can I get with a Biotech degree from NOVA?
The Washington D.C. metro area is one of the largest bioscience clusters in the world, with federal agencies (i.e. NIH), research institutions and universities (HHMI, GMU, John Hopkins, and bioscience companies located within this region. Many of the jobs in this region are located in Montgomery County in Maryland but a growing number are located in Northern Virginia at places such as American Type Culture Collection, Bode Technology, Covance Laboratories, MediaTech, etc. At such places, graduates will likely serve as lab technicians. These duties could include washing glassware and media preparation, supporting research projects or forensic analyses, maintaining documentation and quality control, helping in the manufacturing of pharmaceutical products. Many of the companies in the D.C. Metro area do have entry-level jobs for people who have Associate degrees. Additional opportunities exist for students who have a Bachelor’s degree and/or extensive lab experience. Entry-level salaries for those with an Associate degree vary dramatically between companies with the range being from $25,000 to over $40,000/yr.

We are now implementing a non-competitive application as of Fall 2012. Students must apply to the program and be program placed by January 1st to avoid being dropped from the program. This is a non-competitive application, only designed for advising purposes. Please, click here to download the application.

If you decide to enroll in Biotechnology at NOVA, please fill this application and e-mail it to Dr. Xin Zhou at xzhou@nvcc.edu.

Application Process for Entering the Biotech Curriculum

A.A.S. in Biotechnology

Students wishing to enroll in the A.A.S. in Biotechnology degree should proceed through the following steps for admission, starting at least one semester prior to when they wish to enroll in the program:

  1. Schedule an advising appointment with a Biotech Program Head. This can be completed prior to or after steps 2-4. Students are encouraged to seek information very early in the process.

  2. Apply to NOVA. Students may choose to enroll in the A.S. in General Studies degree prior to their acceptance into the program.

  3. Take the college placement test for English and Mathematics in one of the College’s Testing Centers (located on each campus).

  4. Complete Pre-admission requirements for program.

    Students applying to the A.A.S. degree must have documentation of the following:

    • Placement into college-level English (ENG111)
    • Placement into MTH151 or higher
    • Completion of BIO101 with "C" or better.

    Students who are currently enrolled in BIO101 may apply to program and be admitted on a provisional basis until their final grade is submitted. If a student has taken BIO101 or any of the course requirements at another institution, they must submit official transcripts and if applicable, foreign transcripts, and submit a formal evaluation of the courses/degree. They must then fill out the appropriate form in order for them to be entered into the student’s academic record.

  5. Apply to the program by emailing an application form to Biotech Program Head. An advising session will be scheduled if not already completed. Students will be notified within 2 – 4 weeks as to whether they have been accepted or not.

Career Studies Certificate, Biotechnology Lab Technician

Students applying to the Career Studies Certificate for Biotechnology Lab Technicians must complete all of the pre-admission requirements as outlined above with the exception that applications will only be accepted for students enrolling in the Fall Semester (August 20st).In addition, a student must have completed a college degree (Associate of Science degree or higher). Foreign students must document the U.S. equivalent to an Associate Degree. Students without a science degree are strongly advised to complete the A.A.S. in Biotechnology instead of the Career Studies Certificate.