Biochemistry and associated disciplines, such as cell and molecular biology, are rapidly growing fields with an ever-expanding literature and a variety of data resources available via the Internet. Biochemists today often use these databases to develop a better understanding of problems of interest, and to perform exploratory research at the beginning of a project, or to analyze data as it is produced.
Thus, learning to navigate through databases, whether of literature, sequence, structure, or other information, is central to a biochemist’s role. Regardless of the area within biochemistry that is being studied – microbiological vs. eukaryotic, plant vs. animal, basic vs. applied (clinical), etc. – biochemists must b able to quickly and efficiently find the information available, to organize it, to understand it, and to use it.
In Bio 374, we focus on accessing and using two types of information: 1) literature, and 2) databases of structure and function of proteins and nucleic acids. In the primary literature portion of the course, I give brief overview lectures on four different topics across the breadth of modern biochemistry, and students research the relevant literature to find a paper or papers they would like to present and discuss in class. For three of these four presentation/discussions I also ask students to write a research paper describing in more detail the work in the field. This portion of the course is designed to help students learn to navigate the various ways in which literature can be obtained, adds to their experience presenting information to a class, and of course, exposes students to recent research in a variety of interesting areas of biochemistry.
In the bioinformatics portion of the course, we use a number of software programs to delve into a variety of sources of data maintained on the Internet. This portion of the course is something of a computer lab, and students explore in more detail the structural and functional underpinnings of the topics we investigate concurrently in our literature discussions. In addition to informing our literature discussions, this portion of the course also familiarizes students with some of the tools that biochemists and molecular biologists use to study problems of interest.
These two portions of Bio 374 overlap and inform one another -- we explore bioinformatics databases in the context of the topics we are discussing in the primary literature, and by the end of the course, students develop a better awareness of how literature research and database research each can support the other to enhance our understanding of specific problems in biochemistry.