On studying biochemistry

To me, biochemistry is the intersection of chemistry and biology in biological systems. This includes the chemical basis of biological systems, such as the chemistry underlying how macromolecules like DNA and proteins are made and how they function, how various molecules and chemistry affect these systems, and how different biological systems interact and adapt to challenges at the molecular level. Biochemistry includes and is related to a wide variety of fields, which is reflective of how central the study of biochemistry is to the understanding of life and its underlying processes.

I am interested in biochemistry because it is the deepest level at which organisms can be studied and understood that still sees and treats them as organisms. While disciplines like physical chemistry can provide a better understanding of the thermodynamics of a particular reaction or how the physics of atomic orbitals inform the structure of an organic molecule, to do so is to lose the organism as a cohesive whole in the math. Understanding an organism means understanding it as a whole and understanding its constituents. Not only does biochemistry provide an understanding of the various parts and systems within an organism, it also provides the connection between those parts and the whole, revealing how each system meshes with the others to create a complete and unified organism. Studying biochemistry allows us to understand how a small change in one of the parts, such as a single point mutation in the DNA coding for a protein, can affect the whole organism, or how environmental stimuli, such as selection pressures, can individual systems. Perturbing the systems allows us to obtain a much greater understanding of biochemical processes than simply observing them would. Observation lets us know what and how things are, while more active experimentation tells us how things could be. For instance, experimenting with changing the amino acids in proteins informs us about structure and reactivity tolerances in proteins and experimenting with non-standard amino acids could result in short polypeptides where the inclusion of non-standard amino acids results in improved activity over the evolutionarily-derived versions. The ability to understand why biological events happen and how they can lead to changes in even the most unlikely systems that are least connected to the event fascinates me. I am interested in why and how things happen in biological systems and what we can do to affect them. I think that the knowledge of how we function at different levels, from the molecular up to the entire organism, and how these various levels interact and influence one another, and the ability to use this knowledge are incredibly important tools to be used for the improvement of our lives.

My current career goal is to enter pharmaceutical drug discovery and development, and studying biochemistry provides both the chemical and the biological background necessary to understanding the interaction of drug and organism, from how a drug enters the body to how it moves to where it is needed and how it affects the desired change. I am interested in creating chemical and biochemical solutions to the problems that affect us, whether these solutions be modifying an existing antiviral to improve its efficacy or developing a drug that improves the quality of life for people with a chronic disease. In other words, the positive idea of “better living through chemistry.”

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