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Timeline for biochemistry: natural products and the molecular sciences

Week 3 timeline video.
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During the final week of this MOOC we will focus attention on natural products and molecular and cellular biology. In week 1 we heard how the era of molecular biology stems from the discovery of the double helical structure of DNA, and this led to huge scientific technological advances, that included technologies to quickly sequence genomes. We are going to hear how natural products often provide protection to the cells that produce them and also find out how discovery of some of them has been critical to our understanding of human health and disease. Some natural products have found important uses as antibiotics. In this area, significant discoveries identified penicillin and also streptomycin, the first antibiotic to be effective against tuberculosis.
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Since the middle of the twentieth century, advances in the molecular sciences have changed our understanding of how cells work. By 1968 scientists had interpreted how the genetic code links to protein synthesis and in the years that followed key regulators of the cell cycle were also discovered. One final example is 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry which was awarded to the biochemists Lindahl, Modrich and Sancar for their studies of DNA repair pathways. Now of course, there are some significant scientific advances that haven’t been recognised by prizes or awards. Some of the most famous, that you may have heard of are a DNA profiling technique known as DNA fingerprinting as well as the cloning of the first animal in 1996, Dolly the sheep.
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Recently, new and exciting technologies are allowing efficient and precise genomic modifications to be made in a wide variety of organisms and tissues. These new techniques are referred to as gene editing methods and they’re starting to hit news headlines because of their potential to cure human diseases caused by mistakes or faults in human genes.

During the final week of this course we focus attention on natural products and molecular and cellular biology.

Within week 1 we heard how the era of molecular biology stems from the discovery of the double helical structure of DNA, which led to huge scientific technological advances, including technologies to quickly identify genome sequences.

Some other significant biochemists and biochemistry experiments in these research areas include:

1929: Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine to Eijkman and Hopkins.

1937: Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine to Albert von Szent-Györgyi.

1945: Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine to Fleming, Chain and Florey for their work on penicillin.

1952: Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine to Waksman for his discovery of streptomycin, the first antibiotic that was effective against tuberculosis.

1968: Nobel Prizes in Physiology and Medicine given to Holley, Khorana and Nirenberg for their interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis.

2001: Nobel Prizes in Physiology and Medicine to Hartwell, Hunt and Nurse for discovering key regulators of the cell cycle.

2015: Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to the biochemists Lindahl, Modrich and Sancar for their studies of DNA repair pathways.

It should also be remembered that not all significant scientific advances lead to recognition via Nobel prizes. Many important findings have yet to be recognised in this way, as illustrated by Jeffreys’ reporting of a DNA profiling technique in 1984, which you may know of as “DNA fingerprinting”, and the cloning of the first animal – Dolly the sheep – by Campell, Wilmut and colleagues in 1996.

Significant developments in gene editing methods continue to be made in recent years. New and exciting technologies allow efficient and precise genomic modifications to be made and they are referred to as “gene editing” methods. Among the most exciting of these is a revolutionary technology referred to as CRISPR-Cas9; many scientists have been involved in biochemical developments of this technique, including teams at different research institutes led by Charpentier, Doudna and Feng.

Further information about some of these findings and biochemists is available on the Biochemical Society website.

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Biochemistry: the Molecules of Life

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