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MCLA Adds Biochemistry, a Field of the Future

07/20/16

Over the past 100 years, advances in the biochemistry field have been staggering, making today a very exciting time to be part of this laboratory-based science, which brings together biology and chemistry. With our new biochemistry concentration within the chemistry major, it’s also a great time to be a science major at MCLA.

“This is a strong addition to our STEM program offerings,” said Dr. Cynthia Brown, vice president of academic affairs, “and we expect a robust response to the program as it rolls out this fall.”

Dr. Carolyn Dehner (right), assistant professor of chemistry at MCLA, explained that biochemistry gets to the heart of how living things work.

In biochemistry, Dehner explained, one uses chemical concepts to explain and study biological processes. For example, a chemist may research a more efficient and greener method to synthesize polymers used in plastic, while a biochemist may study how the structure of an amino acid – or a protein – is linked to its function.

“A biochemistry degree is perfect for students interested in the medical field, including pharmacy, and those who are interested in researching subjects such as: the molecular basis for disease, environmental toxicology, or the bioengineering of microbes to produce drugs or biofuels,” Dehner said.

Biotechnology involves understanding – and perhaps manipulating – cellular and molecular processes to produce a product, such as a drug or biofuel, Dehner continued. With knowledge of biochemistry, “An organic chemist may work for a pharmaceutical company in determining how to synthesize a particular drug, or perhaps research a greener way to make a particular plastic, or a more efficient solar cell.”

In addition, “There are still more options in industry, such as working for a cosmetic company to develop new products,” she added.

“You may learn about how carbohydrate metabolic pathways are regulated in bacteria, so you can entice the microbe into using only the carbohydrate, if you want it to. This may lead to a particular product being made, or a particular environmental toxin being degraded,” Dehner said.

Biochemistry is a field of the future.

“By its nature, it is very interdisciplinary and regarded as a ‘central science,’ which bridges chemistry, biology and environmental science, Dehner said. “Students are able to synthesize what they’ve learned in these various subjects to see a problem from many perspectives, and recognize how these subjects complement one another. This multi-viewpoint approach is needed to tackle our big problems such as sustainability.”

Because the life science community is a fast-paced, interactive network with global career opportunities at all levels, the outlook for biochemists is good. Developments in biochemistry and the life sciences have the potential to contribute to national prosperity and for improving the quality of life of the population. Funding for research in these areas has been increasing dramatically in most countries, and the biotechnology industry is expanding rapidly.

According to Dr. Monica Joslin, MCLA’s dean of academic affairs, the biochemistry course portfolio is comprised of both theoretical and applied courses, such as “Biotechniques.”

“We are fortunate to have faculty with the expertise to develop programs that create value for our students,” Joslin said. In addition, “The program provides an outstanding foundation for students who plan on graduate school.”