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Biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology

Dr Leah Marks discusses molecular and cellular biology
LEAH MARKS: I’m Dr. Leah Marks, and I am a biochemist, originally. But I now teach medical genetics to a wide range of students here at Glasgow University, including masters students in genetics and undergraduate medical students. Originally, I went to university to study psychology and physiology. So I wasn’t actually interested in molecules at all. After studying both psychology and physiology, or more general, biology for a year, I realised that the area that I actually wanted to develop further was what was going on in the cells. So I wasn’t so interested at what’s happening to the whole human or the whole animal. But I really wanted to know, how does a cell work, and what controls how the cell works?
So if you are a geneticist, you’re really looking at what’s happening with the DNA in the cell. So you might look at genes. You might look at the mutations you get in genes. You might even look at the illnesses that these mutations can cause. Once you come up to the areas of biochemistry, you’re really talking about the proteins that the genes make and the pathways that these proteins are involved in, and the other molecules of life for example carbohydrates and sugars, and different kinds of molecules. You’re investigating the molecules within the cell. Molecular and cellular biology, in some ways, I sometimes think of as a combination of these things.
So you’re looking at the whole cell and the different things in the cell. So we know that in a cell, there are ribosomes, there’s a nucleus, all these kind of things. But you’re also looking at the molecules. You’re looking, really, at how a cell communicates. So how does the message go from DNA to RNA, to proteins; how is it that a cell works overall. The main thing I think you get from studying a molecular type subject is a problem-based approach. So there’s lots of tricky problems that we just don’t know about. We don’t know what exactly is going on in the cell.
And in lots of instances, as you begin to unravel these problems, you develop a good problem solving skill base. Another skill that is very important in all these subjects is bioinformatics. And this is a increasingly important area. If you’re going to study a molecular subject, then you should really try and get some information or understanding or experience in the whole bioinformatics field, because there’s lots of emphasis in these subjects on the big data aspects of them.

Genetics is a subject that we often hear discussed in the media – and is full of interesting challenges and ethical issues. Related subject areas include molecular and cellular biology and biochemistry – but what’s the difference between them?

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