Today, biochemistry and biophysics are at the forefront of science. Just a decade ago, the first complete sequence of a human genome was announced. This effort represented a triumph of an interdisciplinary effort involving chemists, biologists, physicists, computer programmers, and engineers. In the intervening years, dozens of additional individual complete human genomes sequences have been added to the genetic archive. including the most recent, Neanderthal genome (Science 2010). We have become aware of how very little DNA it takes us to have different hair, eye, and skin color. Recognizing this, one of the premier journals of science named “Human Genetic Variation” the 2007 breakthrough of the year. We are fascinated to learn that just two changes in the FOXP2 "language" gene may have led to the rapid expansion of human populations several 100,000 years ago. In this 3 billion base pair genomic landscape, we have come to learn how vastly similar we are to each other and how tiny are the perturbations that separate us from our nearest animal cousins, the chimpanzees.
This challenge could not have been met without advances in the techniques that scan for hundreds of thousands of genetic differences at once – this type of technological development is central to biochemical and biophysical research. Looking forward, five of the seven “Areas to Watch” identified by Science are directly linked to initiatives in biochemistry and biophysics: New Lights on Neural Circuits, Megamicrobes, Paleo-genomics, Cells to Order, and Micromanagers understanding of the etiology of many human diseases) Science 2007: 318.5858, pp. 1848-1849. Clearly the importance of this important interdisciplinary field will continue to grow and expand in the coming years.
The Program in Biochemistry and Biophysics at Amherst College will take its first majors in the Fall 0f 2010. At that time, interested students are encouraged to contact Faculty listed on the steering committee for the new major listed under the Faculty tab at left.
An interdisciplinary seminar series is also planned for the 2010-2011 academic year. Two seminars each will be offered by the Department of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics and one each by Computer Science and Mathematics. This will be an exciting time to bring nationally renowned scientists to Amherst College to help introduce this new field to the College. See the Seminar tab at left.
While the Biochemistry aspect of our two track major is both more nationally prevalent and locally represented, the Biophysics track is less common and less well represented in coursework or faculty research in the Five Colleges. Cooperation among those scientists whose interests border on Biophysics in the Five Colleges will strengthen both our focus and expertise in this area. A group of about 20 scientists representing each of the five campuses and the disciplines of chemistry, physics, biology, biochemistry, and math are meeting to discuss ways to work together in this area. We also hope to develop a website from which a student interested in Biophysics might find a comprehensive listing of the Biophysical course offerings in the Five Colleges. Some discussions of cross-listing or co-teaching courses are ongoing.