The Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics (BMB) option has been established as an interdisciplinary program, at the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics, that seeks to understand the chemistry of life. Thus, BMB students study the atomic structure and folding of biopolymers; their interactions with each other and with small molecules; and the roles of particular biopolymers and biopolymer assemblies in cellular physiology. The basic building block of life is the cell; the intellectual focus of modern biochemistry and molecular biophysics is to understand how individual parts interact to give cells their wide spectrum of functions. In particular, biochemistry and molecular biophysics addresses the principles through which the individual components of cells combine in an orderly self-association to produce their form, their function, and their dynamic behavior.
Areas of Research
General areas of research represented within the option include signal transduction, cell cycle, DNA and RNA structure and metabolism, control of gene transcription during development, protein folding, biogenesis and quality control, electron transport proteins and bioenergetics, biological catalysis, macromolecular structure, membrane proteins, and biotechnology and biomolecular engineering. More specific examples of biological phenomena currently under study include the transduction of signals received by cell surface receptors into an appropriate response, as in chemotaxis or transmission of signals across synapses in the nervous system; the replication of DNA; the biochemical networks that control initiation and termination of cell division; the controlled transcription of DNA sequences in the genome into RNA and the processing of this RNA into mRNA and the subsequent translation into protein; energetic principles and molecular mechanisms that underlie the biogenesis of nascent proteins and maintenance of protein homeostasis in the cell; the molecular mechanisms controlling the differentiation of precursor cells into specialized cells such as neurons, lymphocytes, and muscle cells; the mechanisms by which synaptic transmission in the brain is regulated during thinking and the formation of memories; the processes, driven by fundamental principles of chemical bonding and molecular energetics, by which a given linear sequence of amino acids folds into a specific three-dimensional structure in the appropriate cellular environment; how electrons move within a cell to accomplish the many redox reactions necessary for life; how light is harvested by photo-pigments and is perceived in vision; the function of integral membrane proteins in energy and signal transduction processes; and the mechanisms by which enzymes both efficiently and specifically catalyze biochemical interconversions. This fundamental understanding of the molecular basis of biological processes provides a powerful base for the development of applications in medicine, including biotechnology and rational drug design, and in the chemical industry, where nucleic acids, proteins, and their analogs are now being used in the development of chemical systems for novel applications, and where mutagenesis and selection systems are used to produce novel materials.