What’s In a Name?
By Christopher Dieni on May 9th, 2011
A few weeks back, I was sending tweets back and forth with Alan. It started when Alan had asked, in reference to a previous BenchFly blog post, whether it was better to focus on a specific research field, or to be a jack of all trades. I joked that I preferred to focus on what I liked to think of as “interdisciplinary research,” a professional (and slightly nerdy) way of portraying one’s self as a jack of all trades. This prompted Alan to say that as a Chemical Biologist, one could do just that.
I liked Alan’s answer. I’ve always been interested in the field of Chemical Biology. One of the main reasons it has captivated my interest is because, really, I have no idea what Chemical Biology is; but it seems to bundle together quite a bit of methodology and concepts! Certainly, I can go onto a generic site like Wikipedia and read their article on Chemical Biology. It appears to be a rich, fascinating field full of enzymology, proteomics, and protein phosphorylation.
Hang on a second though…
I’ve spent the past 7 years working on enzymology, proteomics, and protein phosphorylation. However, I’m not a Chemical Biologist. Rather, I’m a Biochemist. My undergraduate diploma even says so (that said, my graduate diploma simply says Chemistry).
Something else I’ve always found amusing about Chemical Biology is its very name; the way it is essentially an inversion of Biological Chemistry, the long-form version of Biochemistry.
With that, getting back to our Twitter-conversation, I asked Alan if he thought that there was a difference between Chemical Biology and Biological Chemistry. He said that he didn’t feel there was- it was more splitting hairs than anything else. He did add, however, that there is a difference between Chemical Biology and Biochemistry.
Whoa! Back up two paragraphs there…
No difference between Chemical Biology and Biological Chemistry, but yes, a difference indeed between Chemical Biology and Biochemistry? Aren’t Biological Chemistry and Biochemistry one and the same? Is Biochemistry not simply a portmanteau of Biology and Chemistry? Biology & Chemistry… Biological Chemistry… Bio-Chemistry… BioChemistry… Biochemistry… are there any differences here?
If nothing else, it is a fun debate. Whether it is the proverbial splitting of hairs, or whether these are concrete, diametrically-opposed fields, weeks later I am still left to wonder whether there is a distinct difference between Biochemistry, Biological Chemistry, and Chemical Biology. Has science in the 21st century generated a complex Venn diagram of sub-fields? Ah, the good old days when the only three sciences I had to be concerned with were Biology, Chemistry and Physics.
Chris is originally from Montreal, and defines himself (perhaps ominously) as a Comparative Biochemist and Physiologist. His educational and postdoctoral experiences have taken him from Montreal to Ottawa ON, State College PA, and finally back to Montreal’s biotech industry. In his spare time- as you would expect from a Canadian- Chris enjoys watching hockey and is a stalwart fan of the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. You can keep up to date with the latest from Chris on Twitter.
What are your thoughts- can you bring any clarity to the debate?