Pass that test tube, Atom!
Hello, here I am broadcasting live from Minnesota State University, and sitting by my side is biochemist Dr. Theresa Salerno.
A. What do you do as a biochemist?
My major job function is teaching. I teach majors and non-majors the subjects of chemistry and biochemistry. The research I do with students usually has teaching applications. Some of the projects involve the development of experiments for laboratory classes. Others relate to the analysis of proteins in plants.
B. How do you use math?
1. We use math in simple applications. For example, we describe the shape of molecules by looking at the geometry made by the bonds.
2. We use math to make up the solutions we need to do experiments.
3. We use math to design experiments. For example, we developed experiments to determine blood type. To do this we had to use math to isolate DNA from cheek cells. We had to make sure we used the right amount of salt and detergent to extract the DNA from the cells. Then, we had to use math to set up the right conditions to multiply the DNA. This is a technique called PCR (polymerase chain reaction.)
4. We also use math to analyze the data we have in order to find the answers. The different DNAs are run on a sandwich of gelatin-like material and separate by size. We run one lane with known sizes and make a graph which compares sizes to distances. We use this graph to obtain the sizes of the unknown DNAs. The sizes of the unknown DNAs tell us what blood type we have. If the sample has four pieces of DNA with sizes of 57, 50, 45 and 39 base pairs, then that blood sample has both an 0 and B type blood. If the sample has only 50 and 45 base pair DNAs, then that blood sample has only 0 type blood. (see the attached picture)
5. We can also use math indirectly by taking data that others have obtained and using that data to make pictures of structures like proteins. We can get the data from a governmental data bank and use it in a free-ware program called RasMol. The data positions every atom in space using a three dimensional graph with x,y and z coordinates.
C. What type of equipment do you use?
We have three different types of equipment:
1. equipment to prepare solutions (balances, pH meters)
2. equipment to purify the molecules like protein and DNA (centrifuges, chromatography columns)
3. equipment to study the molecules (spectrophotometers,electrophoresis,PCR)
Look at a protein molecule's atoms!