Do Biology Classes have to much emphisis on Molecular Biology


by Matt Wissler
Tags: biology, classes, emphisis, molecular
Matt Wissler
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Mar10-12, 03:35 PM
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I have worked in the field of wildlife biology for years and have recently switched professions to teaching. One of my biggest concerns with the current biology curriculum is that it seems way too obsessed with it's molecular aspects. I think this over-focus can be extremely harmful to the field of biology for a couple of reasons.

1. It can drive the interest and passion out of a student who might be taking it because of an deep seeded interest in aspects that are more macroscopic (such as a fascination with vertebrate structure and function etc).

2. It lends itself to this to the zealotry and heavy handed dogmatism that some scientists seem to hold so tightly to which, I fear, will both stifle peoples sense of awe and wonder, as well as close future scientists off from exploring new and novel theories and ideas.
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Ryan_m_b
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Mar10-12, 04:09 PM
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Quote Quote by Matt Wissler View Post
I have worked in the field of wildlife biology for years and have recently switched professions to teaching. One of my biggest concerns with the current biology curriculum is that it seems way too obsessed with it's molecular aspects. I think this over-focus can be extremely harmful to the field of biology for a couple of reasons.
Welcome to the forums. It would help for clarity if you told us at what level you are teaching at and under which system (i.e. country). I went through British education and my experience of biology was highly diverse (biochemistry, cell biology, anatomy, animal studies, ecology etc) at GCSE, A-level and my first year of university. After my first year I choose to specialise towards biochemistry and I still found a huge diversity beyond simple molecular biology so I have not found what you have. Molecular biology does pervade a lot of modern biology but that is because biology is fundamentally molecular.
Quote Quote by Matt Wissler View Post
1. It can drive the interest and passion out of a student who might be taking it because of an deep seeded interest in aspects that are more macroscopic (such as a fascination with vertebrate structure and function etc)
True but I have not experienced a curriculum that focused mainly or solely on molecular biology other than when I specialised at university.
Quote Quote by Matt Wissler View Post
2. It lends itself to this to the zealotry and heavy handed dogmatism that some scientists seem to hold so tightly to which, I fear, will both stifle peoples sense of awe and wonder, as well as close future scientists off from exploring new and novel theories and ideas.
I am completely flummoxed by this statement, why exactly would a molecular focus give rise to "zealotry" and "dogmatism" or prevent future scientists exploring novel theories and ideas?
chemisttree
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Mar10-12, 04:26 PM
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I think it's because biology is realizing how much cooler chemistry is than icky biology.

gravenewworld
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Mar10-12, 05:38 PM
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Do Biology Classes have to much emphisis on Molecular Biology


Here's a fantastic blog article (read the responses too) similarly related to this subject. In a nutshell, I do agree with people who make arguments that we've become much too obsessed with molecular biological explanations and trying to understand certain pathways in order to explain a phenomena. Reductionism, especially in biology it could be argued, has produced mediocre results at best.

http://pipeline.corante.com/archives...or_the_win.php

Here's another new article in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery that (for once) isn't titled something like "The Productivity Crisis in Drug Research: Hire Us And We'll Consult Your Problems Away". This one is a look back at where drugs have come from.

Looking over drug approvals (259 of them) between 1999 and 2008, the authors find that phenotypic screens account for a surprising number of the winners. (For those not in the business, a phenotypic screen is one where you give compounds to some cell- or animal-based assay and look for effects. That's in contrast to the target-based approach, where you identify some sort of target as being likely important in a given disease state and set out to find a molecule to affect it. Phenotypic screens were the only kinds around in the old days (before, say, the mid-1970s or thereabouts), but they've been making a comeback - see below!)

Out of the 259 approvals, there were 75 first-in-class drugs and 164 followers (the rest were imaging agents and the like). 100 of the total were discovered using target-based approaches, 58 through phenotypic approaches, and 18 through modifying natural substances. There were also 56 biologics, which were all assigned to the target-based category. But out of the first-in-class small molecules, 28 of them could be assigned to phenotypic assays and only 17 to target-based approaches. Considering how strongly tilted the industry has been toward target-based drug discovery, that's really disproportionate. CNS and infectious disease were the therapeutic areas that benefited the most from phenotypic screening, which makes sense. We really don't understand the targets and mechanisms in the former, and the latter provide what are probably the most straightforward and meaningful phenotypic assays in the whole business. The authors' conclusion:


(this) leads us to propose that a focus on target-based drug discovery, without accounting sufficiently for the MMOA (molecular mechanism of action) of small-molecule first-in-class medicines, could be a technical reason contributing to high attrition rates. Our reasoning for this proposal is that the MMOA is a key factor for the success of all approaches, but is addressed in different ways and at different points in the various approaches. . .
. . .The increased reliance on hypothesis-driven target-based approaches in drug discovery has coincided with the sequencing of the human genome and an apparent belief by some that every target can provide the basis for a drug. As such, research across the pharmaceutical industry as well as academic institutions has increasingly focused on targets, arguably at the expense of the development of preclinical assays that translate more effectively into clinical effects in patients with a specific disease.

I have to say, I agree (and have said so here on the blog before). It's good to see some numbers put to that belief, though. This, in fact, was the reason why I thought that the NIH funding for translational research might be partly spent on new phenotypic approaches. Will we look back on the late 20th century/early 21st as a target-based detour in drug discovery?
epenguin
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Mar10-12, 05:52 PM
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Quote Quote by chemisttree View Post
I think it's because biology is realizing how much cooler chemistry is than icky biology.
OK but he won't buy that so let's tell him:


I hope you are in your new profession enabled to go on short scientific courses. If you can, or in reading, I think you could get a lot of interest combining the traditional sort of biology that was getting forgotten, with molecular biology in the lively area known as 'evolutionary developmental biology' or evo-devo. In that field they recognise the existence of more than half a dozen species, not only E. coli, yeast, fruitfly and mouse. Tree of life and diversity is recognised, and specialists in the above canonical species actually talk to each other! I have witnessed a course where they collect specimens on the beach in the morning and then use them for the mol. biol. experiments in the day. They dug out of boxes in museums rare specimens of endangered retired blokes who could tell you if this or that crab or spider was a new species etc. Perhaps some such contacts or experiences could enliven you own enjoyment and teaching - even of the mol. biol. stuff.
Woopydalan
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Mar10-12, 07:24 PM
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Personally I like things like Zoology more than the molecular stuff, seems too much like chemistry. I like big things, not microscopic!
Evo
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Mar10-12, 08:43 PM
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The OP attempted to delete his OP, so thread closed.


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