When I began college I did not have my eyes set on a specific major. I knew I loved science and was interested in a health related field so I immediately began taking those important intro bio and chemistry courses. I knew biology was common path for students like me who had dreams of being a healthcare professional and immediately I was interested in the content. Chemistry, came a little less naturally to me, but its sets of rules that governed how things worked fascinated me.
One thing I knew about myself coming out of high school was my learning style was a comprehensive one. I always had so much frustration in math classes in which the teacher would teach the steps of the equation with no explanation. The “this is the rule memorize it” reasoning always perplexed me. I remember insisting frequently that if I just knew WHY this was the rule, it would be so much easier for me to remember the steps! But, often my teachers explained that these questions were outside our scope of study. In college biology, this frustration was repeated. Lumpy drawings stood in for biological molecules that were actually much more complex. Some processes we were not expected to understand fully. I counted how many ATP molecules were created with each turn of the Krebs cycle without even understanding HOW this ATP was made.
To me, biochemistry is taking those blobby pictures in a biology textbook and refining them. Now, we see the ester bond that connects a glycerol to its fatty acid tail. We see how amino acids determine the shape of biologically relevant proteins such as DNA polymerase through the charges present (or absent). We see how this ordering of residues determines these enzyme’s functions the vital roles they play in the central dogma, catabolism, anabolism and homeostasis in the human body. Biochemistry is not just knowing that penicillin is an antibiotic that kills gram-positive bacteria, but the mechanism it uses to do this and why it will never be effective with gram-negative bacteria. And to me, this makes learning biology easier. Instead of memorizing facts that are true, biochemists can prove them through the chemistry.
I am never going to be an industry scientist performing synthesis in a lab, so even though I find organic chemistry fascinating or analytical chemistry pleasantly methodical, I do not think these skills alone will apply very directly to my goals of a health care profession. However, when applied to human biology, these skills become more applicable and even essential to our understanding and diagnosis of disease. Many medical tests (for example basic blood and urine tests) rely on chemistry to determine presence and concentration of molecules and compounds and even determine pH in samples from the human body. A background in biology may be important for a healthcare professional to hypothesize possible diagnoses for a patient. However, without background in chemistry to help an individual to understand- how different diagnostic tests work, which test will be useful for the current problem and how to interpret the test results, no progress or discovery can result. Medications are the epitome of biochemistry in which a chemical solution is used to alleviate a biological problem. Knowing the mechanism of these medications may help a health care provider specifically target the causal factor of a disease or ailment.
In conclusion, I see biochemistry as a way to ensure that the knowledge we obtain is organic. That it is based on understanding and not memorization. And that we understand not only point A and point B of a problem, but the distance between these points.