Microbiology and biochemistry have distinct definitions, but in practice they share many common goals. Their subjects of interest may seem different at first glance, but they have much to offer each other. Both fields study fundamental questions about how life works, but biochemistry is even more fundamental than microbiology in that it studies the molecules that make life possible. Biochemistry has many purposes, such as improving human health, for which microbiology becomes a tremendous help. Each field has its strength, but their true power emerges when they collaborate.
Small But Influential
Microbiology is the study of microscopic organisms, ones that are too small to be seen by the naked eye. These include bacteria, microscopic fungi, archaea, microscopic algae, protozoa and viruses. Microorganisms are an important part of the ecosystem, and help recycle compounds containing carbon, oxygen, phosphorous, and nitrogen into the geochemical cycles. Scientists study helpful organisms in order to improve their contributions to environmental problems. However, some microorganisms are harmful to humans because they cause disease. Scientist study these organisms to find ways of preventing or curing infections.
It Comes Down To The Basics
Biochemistry is the study of how chemicals react within living organisms. Biochemistry studies the structure and function of the four main macromolecules that comprise living matter: proteins, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids. Molecular interactions are at the heart of life’s processes. Cellular functions such as energy production, cell division, and cell-to-cell communication are done through molecules that interact according to their specific chemical properties. Thus, biochemistry is useful for the study of how one protein works -- just because of human curiosity -- or the study of how a life-saving drug can be improved by modifying its interaction with that one protein.
One Helps The Other
Biochemists devise new drugs to cure diseases. They study a chemical drug that binds to a protein and affects that protein’s function. They can produce this chemical in a test tube, but sometimes they find that microorganisms can be genetically engineered to make these chemicals much more efficiently than can be done test tube. For example, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have modified E. coli bacteria to produce artemisinin, an anti-malarial drug. Other scientists are modifying E. coli so that they convert substances into clean fuels such as ethanol.
Returning The Favor
Biochemistry not only benefits from microbiology, but it returns the favor by helping microbiologists better understand the workings of a viral or bacterial infection. Microbiologists study HIV to learn how it infects a cell. HIV has a docking protein that binds to the surface of a human lymphocyte. Microbiologists use biochemistry methods to understand the structure and function of the docking protein in hopes of discovering something that will lead to a new treatment. This is an example of how biochemistry helps microbiology.
- McGraw-Hill Higher Education: The History and Scope of Microbiology
- Todar’s Online Textbook of Bacteriology: Nutrient Cycling and the Cycles of Elements that Make Up Living Systems
- Todar’s Online Textbook of Bacteriology: Bacterial Pathogens of Humans
- Univ. of British Columbia: Department of Biochemistry
- Breastcancer.org: How Herceptin Works
- Science Beat: Synthetic Biology Offers New Hope For Malaria Victims
- Journal of Biotechnology: Engineering Escherichia coli for improved ethanol production from gluconate
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: Structure of HIV
- Protein Science: Efficient molecular docking of NMR structures: Application to HIV-1 protease
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