08
Sep
09

What is so interesting about biology?

So, here’s the kickoff to my 9-day post-a-thon: quick, get in your questions while you can!

“Why”? Why are you interested in biology? What intrigued you so much that you would spend time learning about RNA – DNA – and genetics?? (and other “sciency” stuff like that)

I think this is one of those times I will resort to a somewhat narrative approach.

When I was a child, (4 or 5, I suppose) I was utterly fascinated by technology. I would disassemble things (much to my father’s displeasure) just to see how they worked. This included a lawnmower engine, several remote controls, our first computer, a television (very dangerous in hindsight), and a printer (one of those noisy dot-matrix ones). I was always interested in figuring out how things worked. By the time I was in sixth grade, I became (as most children are) interested in marine animals, but not in the typical sense of wanting to know more about them. I had observed that many students were interested in them; “them” being limited to sharks, penguins, cetaceans, and pinnipeds. I was interested in why people found them so fascinating. Why didn’t they think of jellyfish, sea snakes, and gulls to be just as interesting? At about this time, I began to investigate the opinions people had of sharks and dolphins and quite accidentally stumbled across how people tended to anthropomorphize animals. “Sharks are vicious hunters” adults would always say to me; those my age would just say “they’re cool” as if “cool” is some objective property any organism may have. It is difficult to know if the adults were trying to communicate with a child, so they would try to frame this in terms I understood or of they actually thought this themselves. (I remain interested in how people perceive the world through the present day.)

Flash forward my senior year of high school. I decided to enlist in the Air Force (i.e. “Chair Force”) but this did not go so well as I was diagnosed a few months into it with what was thought to be an arrhythmia known as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, and thus was discharged. Following this, I enrolled in a local two-year college (since the deadline for the major universities had long since passed) and enrolled in the pre-med program there. Like many other students, I “wanted to be a doctor.” During the course of this, however, I became intrigued with the specific research being done in oncology and neurology. The former leading to my interest in reptiles and amphibians due to a publication by Dr. Francis Markland of the Keck School of Medicine.

A snake venom protein that effects cancer. This is really interesting, what other novel proteins exist in so-called “poisonous” snakes. (Note: venomous snakes are not poisonous, Dendrobates are poisonous) The venom and toxins produced by these animals obviously interrupt a metabolic or physiological system somehow. We must be able to use them to learn SOMETHING from them.”

Then, it dawned on me; while most physicians use what has been learned in research, the really cutting edge discoveries concerning life isn’t done with humans (most of the time; think Karl Brandt) but with model species like yeast, mice, rats, flies, and zebrafish. During the course of my studies, I learned that basic research into biology is needed before we have any chance of understanding many of the diseases and afflictions humans suffer from.

Understanding what makes organisms work can really improve the lives of people around the world. Modern evolutionary insights have given us the knowledge that all organisms are related either by descent or, at the very least, lateral gene transfer. The more we understand other organisms, the more we will, ultimately, understand ourselves, even if that sometimes provides unflattering descriptions of what it means to be “human.” After all, we so frequently see other organisms to be anthropomorphic due to our own evolutionary history, perhaps there is a bit more of them in us than we would like to think.

Around my junior year of college, I decided to begin exploring genetics and realized how much more there really was to learn. We have only scratched the surface of the role of genetics in developmental biology. There seem to be more questions than answers even though we have answered so much. It seemed I could delve into the recent findings of genetics and never see the other side. The findings in this field hold substantial implications for all of us and can potentially shed light on many other aspects of biology.

I suppose, ultimately, I cannot give a specific reason why I became interested in biology aside from following the path my interests led me during the course of my studies.

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3 Responses to “What is so interesting about biology?”


  1. September 8, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    This was great! I always find it interesting to learn from people why they have chosen to enter whatever field study and practice. I find particularly fascinating those who actually knew just what they wanted to be when they grew up, even from a young age.

    At 56 years old I still haven’t figured this out for myself. One lifetime has always seemed too short to learn all I wanted to learn. Before I learned to read my father said, “all you want to know can be found in books.” I have been a reader ever since, but it took but a few years for me to realize that I just wouldn’t have enough time to learn everything. ;)

    Mike

  2. 2 jaredcormier
    September 8, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    My first thought was “the human brain needs an external hard drive for what I want to learn…” but then I realized that an external hard drive opens the door to people trying to hack into your brain, but then again, that’s what sociobiologists and behavioral economists have been trying to do this for years anyway…

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