|MadSci Network: Biochemistry|
Leanne: 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 imagine. 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 -Matt- GIF Courtesy of PDB At Brookhaven National Laboratories. PDB code #8ICQ
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