MadSci Network: Biochemistry

Re: What jobs are involved with biochemistry?

Date: Mon Feb 1 22:39:09 1999
Posted By: Matthew Champion, Grad student, Biochemistry/Biophysics, TexasA&M University
Area of science: Biochemistry
ID: 912919234.Bc

     That is a really, really good question.  I am typically surrounded by 
people that are biochemists like myself, and rarely have the opportunity 
to talk about exactly what it is that a biochemist can do.  I will see 
what I can do to illuminate you to this profession...
     Biochemistry represents a lot of different fields (Such as biology, 
genetics, and chemistry) and because of this, there are a lot of 
opportunities for scientists in a multitude of places you might not 
     First of all, let me tell you a little bit about some of the more 
obvious places you might expect to find biochemists, and then some of the 
lesser known, obscure things biochemists do.  The traditional job of 
biochemists (And most scientists for that matter) is an academic job.  
This is typically working for a University or institute, (Such as the CDC 
Centers for Disease Control, or some place like Ohio State).  In these 
positions, biochemists typically have a lab where they perform research on 
their favorite topic in science.  Some people might try and discover new 
drugs, or develop a method to discover new drugs.  Other people try and 
figure out how cells (life) really works, and myself, I am trying to 
understand the physiology of cells at a single protein level of 
resolution.  Some biochemists have jobs taking X-ray pictures of molecules 
and proteins so we can know more about how they look.  I included a 
picture of one of these.  This protein is part of the proteins that copy 
your DNA inside your cells.  If you look in the middle, there is a small 
piece of DNA in the process of being copied.  It is in red, the protein is 
in blue.  
     There are other academic jobs too, most biochemistry professors teach 
in the school, and some work permanently as scientists in the lab.
    Companies hire a lot of biochemists too.  For these companies, 
biochemists do research also, just like the University labs, but instead 
it is directed at what the company is trying to achieve, such as designing 
a new drug for treating cancer, or developing a new vaccine for Lyme 
disease.  Companies ultimately, of course want to sell these developments 
to make money.   There are also a lot of biochemists that work for 
companies to make stuff for other biochemists/scientitsts to use.  They 
develop tools that we can use in our labs, such as devices to separate 
proteins, or enzymes that help us cut DNA.  These people also know a lot 
of science and that helps when talking to them about problems with 
equipment and helping them sell things better by understanding the person 
buying it.
     There are a couple of new fields that have recently expanded the role 
and need for biochemists too, Biotech companies and the legal system.     
Biotech companies employ biochemists  just like the other companies, but 
there has only recently been a surge in the number and availability of 
these jobs due to, you guessed it, lots of advances in biology.
     There are a lot of non-traditional jobs available to biochemists as 
well.  Because of the increase in science in the courtroom, there is a 
demand for lawyers with scientific training, to better understand the 
techniques being done, such as DNA testing, or to interpret the ethics of 
human cloning, for example.  The other big field is having scientifically 
trained lawyers to help other scientists patent biologial products they 
invented.  And being a biochemist/scientist helps you to write patents to 
protect the inventions of other people from infringement.  Another field 
available is lobbying and politics,   Biochemists are sometimes employed 
to serve as experts in court cases, or to talk to congress people about 
issues important to certain groups, and having scientific knowledge can 
sometime be useful to advocate certain points of view.
     There are now various aspects of the government that need biochemists 
as well.  The military and other government enforcement agencies hire 
biochemists to help them develop new ways to detect biological weapons, or 
to help them develop bacteria that can 'eat' chemical weapons and 
explosives, making them safe.  
     This is just a brief view of a number of options open to biochemists, 
and scientists out there, but there is even more diversity when you look 
at all of the different research that each one does.  There is almost no 
limit to the wide variety of really cool stuff that biochemists do all 
over the world.  Just within my building, people work on destroying 
chemical weapons, improving tomato plants, learning how proteins recognize 
each other, how they fold and even why lightning bugs glow.  And that is 
just one building at one school!  So, there is a lot to do as a biochemist 
and lots of places at which to do it.  Thanks, and enjoy the picture

GIF Courtesy of PDB At Brookhaven National Laboratories.  PDB code #8ICQ

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