Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The secret to mastering molecular biology

As a student in the sciences, I'm very sure you have touched on the subject of biology. Before this, I've been asked on how I studied effectively for a good score in the subject *laughs*. My simplest answer is: understanding what you have learnt.

If you are taking biology at the STPM/GCE A-level/SAM, I would like to share a tip when it comes to molecular processes like respiration/photosynthesis/digestion. This tip becomes even more useful and relevant when you proceed to university level taking the subjects of biochemistry/biotechnology/physiology/pharmacology. As you get up to higher levels, you'll approach more materials and more things to remember. This calls for an effective retention technique.

Instead of the hard memorization approach, why not treat facts as stories.

As we all know, all life processes require enzymes, proteins that drive chemical reaction forward fast enough to support life. And all enzymes have substrates, chemical "objects" which is worked on; and products, the result of the catalysed chemical reaction.

To make the idea of biological chemical reactions tangible, think of each enzyme (molecule) as a living person, a super efficient worker at doing a specific job. The substrates are the raw materials to be converted into products by the "magic hand" (active site) of the enzyme.

At the same time, enzyme catalysed chemical reaction are classified into types of reaction. Think of this as the enzyme "do something" to the substrate, and describing the process can take the form of a verb or noun. For example, the breaking up of substance using water (hydrolysis), you can write it as hydrolyse (verb) or hydrolysis (noun).

Treating that enzymes as lively beings that can act on substances, things become much easier. When you are asked to describe a biological process, the question instantly becomes a storytelling question. For example, when you're asked to describe the process of glycolysis, you begin with:

Glucose is phosphorylated into glucose-6-phosphate by hexokinase.
OR

Hexokinase phosphorylate glucose into glucose-6-phospate.

"Worker" = hexokinase
"Raw material" = glucose
Product = glucose-6-phosphate

Subsequent steps in glycolysis until the production of pyruvate should make sense.

All you need to succeed in biology is the skill of storytelling and accurate description.

Think of a cell this way: It's a chemical factory that employs thousands of specialised workers to convert raw materials into products to meet energy needs :)

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