As a biology student at Longwood, I am required to take some general physics and chemistry classes to round out my education. While it’s been very interesting to study other areas of science, it’s also been important because all fields of science tend to overlap. So while I may not use some of the more advanced physics and chemistry material I learned in my everyday future as a biologist, but there are overlapping concepts that it’s been really nice to know.
Chemistry of DNA: One of the first things I learned about the chemistry of biology when I got to Longwood was the structure of DNA. There are many important chemical aspects to DNA that make it so unique. Understanding its chemical structure also allows for reliable experimentation with DNA. For example, the fact that adenines and thymines have two hydrogen bonds while cytosine and guanine have three means that denaturing those bonds happens at different temperatures. The phosphate groups on the backbone of DNA also have an important chemical impact on the structure. They’re negative meaning that DNA has a slight negative charge which is taken advantage of in biological experimentation processes such as gel electrophoresis. I did an experiment in a genetics class I took at Longwood where we did a promoter swap on a strain of yeast. To do this, we needed a knowledge of the chemical structure of yeast to identify proper primers and denaturation temperatures for the hydrogen bonds. We also did a gel electrophoresis of our experimental DNA which used the polarity to determine size of our fragments. This is one of the first classes where I had to look at chemical structure to design an appropriate biological experiment.
Buffer Solutions: In my final chemistry class at Longwood, I’m learning all about the importance of pH. My professor has made a point to state how the concepts we’re learning are applicable in biological contexts. One of the things scenarios she mentioned is how buffer solutions are used to control pH in a variety of biological experiments. It reminded me of a lab study I did in an earlier genetics class where we used a buffer solution to run PCR. If there weren’t a buffer and the pH were able to fluctuate, we could have run the risk of molecules destabilizing in the unstable environment.
Motion in Evolution: The effect of physics on biological concepts has been less of a focus throughout my biology career here at Longwood. I’ve taken more genetic classes than anything else, and physics concepts aren’t that applicable with new technologies to discover information within genetic studies. However, before there were microscopic technologies aiding research the genetics field, scientists had to use only what they could see to discuss genetic and evolutionary similarities. This is a topic I go into a lot in a review paper I wrote on how fields of science have historically overlapped. While writing this paper, I highlight a 3-part study that determined the evolutionary similarity of aquatic insects by looking at mechanical aspects of how the different bugs moved. Because they weren’t able to genetically determine this, they used physics concepts to study biological organisms. Reading the research and writing this paper demonstrated to me that though I don’t use physics regularly in my biological career, there are clear overlaps in the different fields of study.